By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The FIFA World Cup is now just eight days away. This week the Seleção Brasileira squad have been training in the town of Teresópolis, before embarking on preparation friendlies before June 12th’s curtain raiser against Croatia at the Arena Corinthians in São Paulo.
Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side has been in excellent form, with thirteen wins from their last fourteen, and a substantial part of their success is down to a perfectly balanced midfield. The ability to defend and attack in equal measures is one of the most sought after weapons in football, but Felipão and Brazil seem to be arriving at the right equation prior to the 2014 World Cup.
Holding Midfield: Luiz Gustavo
Age: 26, Birthplace: Pindamonhangaba, SP, Club: Wolfsburg
A player who has come into his own over the last year. Called up by Scolari prior to the Confederations Cup, the former Bayern Munich midfielder has never looked back. Gustavo has added some much needed steel to the Seleção midfield and has become the foundation of the trio in the middle of the park. His excellent timing in the tackle has been a welcome and much needed aid to Scolari’s backline.
Having left Bayern for regular football at fellow Bundesliga outfit Wolfsburg, the 26-year-old has made the Seleção holding role his own with a series of competent and disciplined displays. He is also comfortable dropping in as a makeshift third central defender if needs be.
Central Midfield: José Paulo Bezerra Maciel Júnior “Paulinho”
Age: 25 Birthplace: São Paulo, SP, Club: Tottenham Hotspur
The midfield motor, Paulinho, is the side’s engine and typifies the phrase, ‘box-to-box midfielder.’ Equally capable of helping out in defense as launching rapid counter-attacks, the former Corinthians player has, nevertheless, received mixed reviews of his first season in English football.
After leaving Corinthians for Premiership club Tottenham Hotspur in a multimillion pound deal, the 25-year-old made a promising start to life in North London. He however appeared to run out of gas before the season’s end in May, and he has not traveled to Goiânia for Brazil’s friendly with Panama.
Under Scolari he has become an integral part of the Seleção set-up. Paulinho scored the winner against Uruguay in the Confederations Cup semi-final.
Central Midfield: Oscar dos Santos Emboaba Junior “Oscar”
Age: 22 Birthplace: Americana, SP, Club: Chelsea
The most creative force in the Seleção set-up today and operating behind the frontline, Oscar’s vision and range of passing will be key to any Brazilian success. Neymar may get the majority of the plaudits, but the connecting line running from midfield to attack goes directly through the Chelsea play maker.
Oscar has emerged at a time when Brazil has produced a host of names capable of playing “in the hole”. Paulo Henrique Ganso and Lucas Moura, amongst others, have been usurped by the former Internacional starlet, who, after running on empty during the second half of the Premier League season, needs to be firing on all cylinders come June 12th.
Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari‘s back-up options for the midfield berths are Fernandinho, who has just won the Premier League title with Manchester City and is comfortable playing anywhere across the midfield line.
Ramires is also plying his trade in England and is part of Chelsea’s Brazilian contingent. The unsung Hernanes is an excellent passer of the ball in the mold of Andrea Pirlo, the 29-year-old completed a switch to Italian giants Internazionale where he has initially struggled for form.