Despite being the competition’s most successful team, few would blame Brazil for feeling anxious heading to Russia – although it’s hard to see how they could plunge any lower. Four years ago, the Selecao set out to right the wrongs of the 1950 World Cup, where Brazil lost out to Uruguay on home soil, only to end up with an even bigger complex than before as they underwent the ignominy of being thrashed 7-1 in the semis by Germany.
Dunga was hired back for a second spell after Luiz Felipe Scolari’s failure in 2014, but after a disastrous start to the qualifying campaign that made Brazil not qualifying for the World Cup look a real possibility and a group stage exit at the Copa America Centenario he was let go.
For his replacement the CBF chose Tite. The 57 year-old suffered a knee injury that cut short his playing career thirty years ago and since then has coached a host of primarily Brazilian clubs – most notably Corinthians, who he led to their first ever Copa Libertadores in 2012. He is best known for his teams’ defending, creating a strong base for them to work off. With that, he won his first nine games in charge, qualifying only behind hosts Russia for the finals.
Alisson, Ederson, Cassio
Miranda, Marquinhos, Geromel, Thiago Silva, Marcelo, Filipe Luis, Danilo, Fagner
Casemiro, Fernandinho, Fred, Paulinho, Philippe Coutinho, Renato Augusto
Neymar, Willian, Douglas Costa, Roberto Firmino, Gabriel Jesus, Taison
Tite sets up his team in a 4-3-3 formation, with the front three narrowing off the ball to make it difficult for the opposition to play out of defence. Gabriel Jesus will block passes into the midfielders and sometimes push forward to press the centre-backs, while Neymar on the left and one of Douglas Costa, Willian or Philippe Coutinho on the right stand between the central midfielders and the full-backs, allowing them to press inside if the ball goes to the former or press outside if it goes to the latter.
With another narrow three of defensively strong midfielders behind them, the opposition is usually forced into going out wide, which causes the wide midfielders to drop back into a 4-5-1 shape. This means that the Brazilian full-backs rarely have to leave their backline when defending, maintaining lots of cover at the back and it also allows the Brazilians to trap the opposition against the touchline and win the ball back.
This zonal defence and effective pressing means they are often able to win the ball quite high up the pitch and break quickly at the opposition, with their quick talented dribblers able to combine at speed.
When they have to actually break down the opposition things can get a little more tough though. Unless Coutinho is in the midfield, it lacks creativity – made up of Casemiro, Paulinho and Casemiro. That three remain narrow and find it tough to play the ball through to the frontmen, but in staying compact they also narrow the opposition midfield, opening up space for the full-backs to bomb forward.
The injury to Dani Alves is a blow as Danilo doesn’t offer the same dynamism, however Marcelo got forward more on the left anyway. Neither man tends to get high and wide though: their job is to help get the ball into the final third then hang around the edge of the area with Fernandinho (if he’s playing) to press any second balls. The wide men will try to combine with the full-backs to work a way into the box, with Paulinho joining Jesus in there, but it’s difficult for them to pick out a pass if the opposition have managed to get their defence organised.
There’s not a great deal of strength in depth but there is a flexibility to the team. Costa on the right and Coutinho in midfield offers greater attacking impetus, while Willian in attack and Fernandinho in midfield brings defensive solidity, so Tite has several options depending on his opposition.
Obviously. The Paris Saint-Germain star is the best of a good range of attacking talents and despite the fact he’s still recovering from a foot injury he picked up in February, it will be him that Brazil will be looking to for answers.
It’s difficult to tell quite how Tite will opt to use him in Russia. In qualifiers he was free to roam, dropping quite deep into the centre of the midfield to help move the ball forward in a midfield lacking an eye for a pass, however this was when playing a slower paced South American style with lots of space.
He missed the friendlies against Germany and Russia which were much more intense and compact games where his replacements Coutinho and Douglas Costa weren’t permitted to drop back, although, put simply, they aren’t Neymar. He might be given the freedom to do as he pleases or he may be expected to wait for the ball in the final third – we can’t know until we see them in Russia.
Young player to watch
Given he’s the only player in the squad under 24, he gets this spot by default, but he would have been a strong shout even with contenders. The Manchester City man had displaced Sergio Aguero at his club until an injury and he is holding off the considerable challenge of Roberto Firmino to be Brazil’s starting number nine this summer.
The role demands a lot of him, asking that he chase any balls in behind and prowl the penalty box ready to get on the end of any pass played into the middle, while also asking him to move around and provide an option to link up with the other attackers. He also defends well from the front, with Brazil boasting a surprisingly well organised pressing set-up for a national team spending little time together. Working with Pep Guardiola has clearly helped the young starlet and Brazil may reap the rewards.
Tite is a man who seems to have most of his team planned out already. There are question marks in midfield and on the right wing, but these are all well-known and often interchangeable names, and while there’s a chance Fagner, a trusted member of Tite’s successful Corinthians side, may get in ahead of Danilo at right-back, he’s not all that exciting.
The most interesting name (from a footballing, not titling perspective obviously) from the rest of the squad is probably Fred. The Shakhtar Donetsk man is alleged to have been attracting interest from Manchester United and could provide an attacking alternative in the centre. Keeping the ball very close to him as he drives at the opposition, an eye for a through ball, and a tendency to pick out his shots like someone controlling him is holding down the finesse button on FIFA, we may get a glimpse or two of him if Brazil are in need of a goal, although Coutinho is likely to be ahead of him in the pecking order.