By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Seleção (Brazilian national team) is getting ready for its first taste of competitive football (soccer) since the 2011 Copa America as the Confederations Cup beckons. Under the stewardship of Luiz Felipe Scolari, who replaced Mano Menezes last November, Seleção has just two friendlies remaining before the tournament kicks-off on June 15th in Brasília.
Brazil opens the tournament against Asian champions Japan after a worrying run of form. Confronting more technically gifted teams Brazil has failed to win, losing to England and drawing with Italy and Russia.
On April 24th Brazil will play a friendly against fellow South Americans Chile at Belo Horizonte’s Mineirão Stadium. Only players plying their trade in Brazil will be eligible for selection.
On June 2nd comes another friendly against England at the official reopening of the Maracanã Stadium in Rio. It will be the first time the newly renovated arena will be full, and coupled with the fact that it is the Seleção’s final outing prior to the Confederations Cup, pressure will be on Scolari to produce a positive result.
Despite some shaky performances in 2013, especially in the defensive sector, Felipão’s side is beginning to take shape. It does not differ vastly from that selected by predecessor Mano Menezes, but is set up in a slightly different formation.
Towards the end of his reign Menezes had discarded the idea of using a fixed-center forward, instead choosing a floating four in attack with the freedom to roam and switch amongst themselves.
Scolari has preferred to use a target man in a 4-2-3-1 line-up and has been vindicated by the form of Fluminense striker Fred. The 29-year-old has scored in all three internationals this year, and despite missing the next friendly through injury has no cause for concern about his place in the Confederations Cup squad.
Carlos Alberto Parreira, Scolari’s assistant, said, “Fred has no reason to worry. He has shown his worth to this team and will be at the Confederations Cup.”
Supporting Fred are Neymar, Oscar, and one of the experienced pair of Kaká or Ronaldinho Gaúcho. Ronaldinho has been in fine form for club Atlético-MG but has been unable to bring the same level of class to the international stage, whereas Kaká is not a regular at Spanish giants Real Madrid.
Felipão has a wealth of options for the two holding midfield berths and must make a choice between the Corinthians pair of Ralf and Paulinho, Grêmio’s Fernando, Chelsea’s Ramires, Spurs’ Sandro (if fit), Fluminense’s Jean, and Hernanes of Lazio. In the game against Bolivia, Scolari opted for Ralf and Paulinho to great success.
Defense is the cause for concern. Thiago Silva and Dani Alves are certainties, at center-back and right-back respectively, but the rest of the back five is less reliable. Júlio César is again between the sticks but more because of the inability to find a successor rather than a recapturing of form.
The likely Brazilian Confederations Cup squad:
Goalkeepers: Júlio César (QPR), Jefferson (Botafogo), Diego Cavalieri (Fluminense)
Full-backs: Dani Alves (Barcelona), Adriano (Barcelona) Marcelo (Real Madrid), Marcos Rocha (Atlético-MG)
Centre-backs: Thiago Silva (PSG), Réver (Atlético-MG), Dedé (Vasco), David Luiz (Chelsea)
Midfielders: Ralf (Corinthians), Paulinho (Corinthians), Ramires (Chelsea), Fernando (Grêmio)
Attacking Midfielders: Neymar (Santos), Oscar (Chelsea), Lucas Moura (PSG), Kaká (Real Madrid), Ronaldinho Gaúcho (Atlético-MG)
Forwards: Fred (Fluminense), Hulk (Zenit), Alexandre Pato (Corinthians)