For Brazil, futbol is more than just a game, it’s a way of life. It is also something the people of the South American nation take great pride in. They have won more previous World Cups than any other nation and are hoping to add to their sixth trophy when they host the competition that kicks off this week. With all the hype and media coverage leading up to the kick off match for Brazil against Croatia one question has been overlooked: Are Brazil and their star Neymar actually ready to win the World Cup?
Hosting the World Cup already comes with an incredible amount of pressure, but for Brazil, the pressure is exponentially higher because of the almost unrealistic expectations from fans. Every host nation dreams of hoisting the trophy in front of their home fans and Brazil is no different. The difference for them is the fact that their fans expect a victory in every World Cup and those fans are some of the most loyal and crazy fans in all of sports. Anything less than victory will be considered a failure in the eyes of most Brazilians and the players know that going into the tournament. Those lofty expectations may not be fair for a team with so many of its star players being very young and inexperienced in major competitions.
Going into the 2013 Confederations Cup, no one really knew what to make of the Brazilian team. Their talent was evident but it was a collection of players who had not played together very much and a lot of its stars were just becoming known in the futbol world. Led by their star Neymar, who at the time was the hottest commodity in world futbol, Brazil went onto win the tournament beating Spain in the final. That victory single handedly raised fans expectations from ‘we have a chance’ to ‘if we do not win it is a failure’. It was good for Brazil to show the world they had the talent to be a force when they host the World Cup, but the Confederations Cup victory actually covered up some of their significant flaws.
Brazil is undoubtedly one of the most talented teams in this year’s World Cup, but the inexperience of some key players could become a problem. Players like Oscar, Neymar, Hulk and Paulinho will be relied upon heavily, but have very little experience in big tournaments. Many of the players were not on the roster for the last World Cup, something other favorites like Spain and Germany do not have to deal with. While talent can overcome experience in many cases, it cannot overcome the fact that many of these players have only played together for one or two years, whereas the core of a team like Spain has been together for six years.
One great weakness of this Brazilian team that is being overlooked is the play of their back line. While their first choice back line is full of big name players from big name clubs, it is not built for defending tough well-organized attacks. Thiago Silva will lead the line and he is one of the best central defenders in the world. However the other three players he is partnered with are not so reliable in purely defensive situations. Dani Alves, Marcelo, and David Luiz are all great talents, but they often use their talents to go forward and join in attacking when they should be staying back to help defend. With the talented attack Brazil has, they do not need the defenders helping in attack, especially when they get caught on the counter attack by opponents and need the back line to stay in tact. Manager Felipe Luiz Scolari will definitely preach defense to these players, but it is in their makeup to try and get forward which could end up severely hurting them in a group with three others teams known more for attacking than anything else.
Whether or not this Brazil team is ready to win the World Cup does not matter to their fans. They expect victory and nothing less. That may be an unrealistic expectation considering the youth and inexperience in many of their key players, including Neymar. He is one of the great talents of world football and will be one of the most promoted and discussed players, but at only 22 years of age, the question will be: Is he ready to lead Brazil to a World Cup victory in front of the home fans?
Commentary by Max Petkevicius