by Robbie Blakeley
Scolari’s second spell as Seleção head coach began last night in a discouraging manner. Defeated 2-1 by The Three Lions Felipão made some minor tweaks to sides put out by Mano Menezes during his last few games in charge.
Pressure will be on Scolari to win the Confederations Cup in June but Brazil would be better served treating the tournament as a dress rehearsal for next year’s main event. No coach will ever be lauded for lifting the Confederations Cup; just ask Dunga.
Scolari is in a delicate situation after the Brazilian Football Confederation’s monumental cock-up. When Menezes was given the job after the World Cup in 2010 his brief was clear; win the 2014 World Cup on home soil.
That meant a complete squad overhaul and an inevitable dip in results. Brazil were eliminated at the quarter-final stage of the 2011 Copa America and then last year lost the Olympic final to a talented Mexican side.
But at the time of Menezes’ dismissal his team was beginning to build its own identity. Gone were ageing centre-halves Lúcio and Juan; he was prepared to gamble on the tempestuous Marcelo at left-back; he dispensed with the lethargic Felipe Melo and refused to pamper the egocentric Robinho.
In came a plethora of home grown talents who were being bedded early in preparation for 2014. The likes of Paulinho, Neymar, Oscar and Lucas, who have since joined Chelsea and Paris-SG respectively, all began to take their first international strides under Menezes.
Now Scolari has just eighteen months to put together a World Cup winning XI and implement his own strategy. Following last night’s bumpy introduction, here are five tips for Big Phil.
Don’t try to recreate your 2002 World Cup formation. The Brazilian press is full of Scolari’s use of a third centre-half in a 3-5-2 formation, because it worked 11 years ago. Different players for a different era. David Luiz’s defensive indiscipline is well documented and there is an argument for shifting him to holding midfield. But at the expense of who? Sandro and Paulinho, prior to the former’s injury, had formed an excellent partnership as enforcer and creator. Luiz should be an option from the bench.
Marcelo is worth the trouble. He can be a colossal pain in the arse but is undoubtedly Brazil’s biggest talent at left-back. Last night, Brazil’s right side of Dani Alves and Oscar was the side’s most threatening outlet. Adriano’s reluctance to break the shackles, coupled with Neymar’s slight frame, gave Brazil no edge down the left.
Tell Neymar to hit the gym. The starlet has certainly cut back on his amateur dramatics over the last eighteen months but at international level is still a lightweight. Disappointing in last year’s Olympic tournament he came up short again last night against a determined but ultimately limited English central defence. When the World Cup begins Neymar will need to showcase far more upper body strength to hold the ball up and bring others into play against the world’s most rugged stoppers.
Play one holding midfielder who knows how to tackle. Due to Sadnro’s injury it would have made sense to push Luiz into midfield last night. The pairing of Paulinho and Ramires, two players in the mould of Andrea Pirlo, left the Brazilians with an abundance of technique but little substance. Paulinho’s Corinthians midfield partner Ralf, who provides an excellent foil in domestic competition, is also worth a try prior to 2014.
Dispense with Ronaldinho. The up and coming star of the 2002 side, now supposedly the leader of the next generation, Ronaldinho failed to deliver once again. Previously, Menezes had gone with Kaka’ in the number 10 role to great success. His limited playing time at Real Madrid makes Scolari’s omission understandable, especially after Ronny’s excellent year at Atlético. But with a large number of younger players able to fill the playmaker position – Oscar, who was shunted out to the right flank last night, Lucas Moura, Fluminense’s Wellington Nem and Anzhi new boy Willian to name but four – Ronaldinho’s days as Brazil’s focal point are gone.
My team, barring injury, for the Confederations Cup: Julio César; Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, Réver, Marcelo; Sando, Paulinho; Wellington Nem, Oscar, Neymar; Fred
Robbie is the senior sports reporter for the Rio Times