By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Seleção Brasileira (Brazilian national team) has carved a reputation for being one of the most swashbuckling, entertaining sides on the planet. Throughout World Cup history, the likes of Pelé, Garrincha, Jairzinho, Careca, Romário, and Ronaldo have upheld a fierce tradition of sublime offensive quality.
Now, with this year’s World Cup just days away, Luiz Felipe Scolari has chosen the men to lead the line from the front. Brazil managed fourteen goals in five games at the Confederations Cup and Felipão has gone with the same armory once again.
Forward: Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior
Age: 22, Birthplace: Mogi das Cruzes, SP, Club: Barcelona
There is no other place to start. Neymar is the face of the new-look Brazil line-up. Having come through the ranks at Santos, Neymar made the switch to Catalan giants Barcelona last summer. His initial season at one of the biggest outfits on the planet, alongside the world-class talents of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta can only have benefited the Brazilian youngster.
He scored four goals during Brazil’s Confederations Cup success last summer, including one in the final against world and European champions Spain. He also set the ball rolling with a third minute wonder goal in the tournament’s opener against Japan; the same against Croatia next week would be a welcome relief for the host nation.
Forward: Givanildo Vieira de Souza “Hulk”
Age: 27, Birthplace: Campina Grande, PB, Club: Zenit St. Petersburg
A bone of contention amongst Brazil fans, the man known as “Hulk” nevertheless has the trust of Felipão. Usually positioned on the right-hand side of an attacking triangle, Hulk is the workhorse of the side’s offence, having built an understanding with the attack-minded Daniel Alves at right-back.
Having left Brazilian domestic football as a teenager, the forward made his name at Portuguese club Porto before making the move to Russian football and Zenit. Despite being in the relative footballing wilderness, his work rate and stamina have made him a useful foil for the likes Neymar, Oscar and Paulinho, giving them the opportunity to burst forward from midfield.
Striker: Frederico Chaves Guedes “Fred”
Age: 30, Birthplace: Teofilo Otoni, MG, Club: Fluminense
The spearhead of the Brazilian attack and the sole representative of the Brazilian domestic league in the starting XI, Fred has come into his own under Scolari’s stewardship. Scorer of five goals during the Confederations Cup, including a brace against Spain, Fred has almost certainly guaranteed himself the No. 9 shirt with a series of prolific performances in national colors.
Having joined Rio club Fluminense in March 2009, the 30-year-old has become an idol at the Laranjeiras outfit. After scoring the goals that saved the side from relegation that year, he went on to win the Brasileirão in 2010, and was the league’s leading scorer in 2012 when Flu lifted a second national title in three years.
A natural finisher and intelligent on-field leader, one of Fred’s main strengths lies in drawing out defenders, thus allowing team-mates to exploit the space behind. His threatening frame, not to mention eye for goal, creates the perfect distraction for Neymar to thrive. Together, they have formed a fearsome partnership for the Seleção. This World Cup will be their chance to prove that fact to the watching world.
Scolari has done his best to pick like-for-like reserves for his first-choice starters. Bernard, of Shakhtar Donetsk, can replace Neymar, whilst Chelsea’s more defensively minded Willian can fill in for Hulk over on the right. Jô, of Atlético-MG, is a direct replacement for Fred and scored two goals during the Confederations Cup.