The biggest carnival in world football – the World Cup – is about to roll into town. Which team looks the strongest, going into the tournament?
All eyes move towards Russia for this summer as it’s time we start gearing for a month-long siesta of the world’s best taking on each other. In this series of articles, we run the rule over the top 5 favorites to lift the trophy – analyzing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for each team, before arriving to a conclusion. The bookies peg Brazil and Germany as the joint-favorites, with European powerhouses France and Spain next, and 2014 finalists Argentina rounding out the top 4. In this first article, we’ll be looking at Brazil.
A very well-rounded squad. The sheer world-beating brilliance of Neymar is back from a metatarsal injury. He will be partnered by by the lung-busting hard work of Willian on the other flank. The wingers will be ably supported by Barcelona’s £142m man Philippe Coutinho, while Manchester City starlet Gabriel Jesus will be tasked with leading the line. So rich are Brazil’s attacking riches that even someone like Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino, despite his 27 goals and 17 assists this season, will likely be on the bench.
That’s not all though. Brazil have an assortment of the world’s best center-backs at their disposal – Thiago Silva, Miranda and Marquinhos. Left-back Marcelo’s enigmatic runs down the left will aid Neymar, while Chelsea and Man Utd target Alex Sandro could not even make the final 23. Brazil are spoilt for choice in goals too – the world’s most expensive goalkeeper, Ederson, will settle for a spot on the sidelines as Roma’s Alisson Becker takes the #1 jersey. Alisson starred in Roma’s Champions League campaign, as they upset Barcelona to make the semi-finals.
Despite a strong squad overall, the right-back position stands out like a sore thumb. Stalwart Dani Alves was ruled out of the event due to an injury, which means Man City’s Danilo will take his position. Danilo didn’t have a sparkling club season, used primarily as a utility man by Pep Guardiola. The backup, Fagner, was a wildcard pick for the squad, and is not expected to feature a lot.
A chance to put behind the ghosts of Maracana. In 2014, Brazil, on the brink of a World Cup final at home, were thumped 7-1 at their cherished Maracana by eventual champions Germany. Since then, under new manager Tite, they’ve experienced an uprising of sorts, finishing top of their qualifying group. Russia 2018 will allow them a chance to put a dark chapter in the nation’s history behind.
For Brazil, the opportunity is also the threat. 4 of their current squad featured in that horrific 7-1 defeat to Germany, while Neymar missed that match due to an injury in the quarter-final – and Thiago Silva missed out due to suspension.
They will no doubt have demons of that match in mind, and so will the rest of the squad – the defeat sent the entire nation into trauma. Brazil’s resolve will be tested in the latter stages, with their players having little to no experience in the latter stages of the World Cup.
Talisman Neymar is only recently back from injury, and missed the last 3 months of the club season. It remains to be seen how he fares thrown straight into the deep end of a World Cup, after suffering through what he termed as the biggest challenge of his career.
Expected Starting XI
4-2-3-1 – Alisson; Danilo, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Marcelo; Paulinho, Casemiro; Willian, Philippe Coutinho, Neymar (c); Gabriel Jesus.
The next edition of this series will cover Germany.