So many people are backing Brazil to win the World Cup. It’s an easy choice given their history with the competition. Traditionally, Brazil have boasted a super-abundance of talented, flamboyant players, allied to the physical steel necessary to overcome tactically disciplined European sides. Not only have they won tournaments, but they have dazzled all and sundry with their play over the years, and showcased some of the best footballers on the planet.
But history doesn’t mean they will win in South Africa. In fact, I think there is a slight chance they may not even make it past the group stage, and if they do, it will likely be rooted in defensive obduracy rather than attacking élan.
Looking at the final Brazil squad I can’t see too much in there to rival the potency of past teams and make an experienced Champions League player quake in their boots. Luis Fabiano is a good striker who has had an indifferent season. Robinho, talented though he is, has been playing in Brazil for months in a league where pressing the ball is almost non-existent, and as a consequence may struggle with the intensity of some teams in South Africa.
Elsewhere, Brumer Elano is a good player capable of moments of magic, but he’s a non-entity without the ball at his feet – just ask Mark Hughes. Filipe Melo is a talented midfield enforcer but endured an awful season with Juventus, Grafite – who somehow managed to edge out Ronaldinho and Pato – was drab last season at Wolfsburg; vastly overshadowed by Edin Dzeko, and Kaka, well, everybody knows what he’s capable of, but he’s had his worst season in a long time at Real Madrid; suffering a dip in form, confidence and fitness more than likely precipitated by the tactical anarchy that characterised Real’s forward line.
Who else is there? Julio Baptista? The nomad who suffered an identity crisis the second he left Sevilla for Real Madrid in 2005? Come off it.
Of course, the hallmark of any great team is its collective spirit, and the line generally espoused is that this Brazil team will be moulded in the image of their manager, Dunga, a former player renowned as the tough tackling defensive lynchpin in a World Cup winning team with Romario and Bebeto at it’s apex, and then later, the 1998 World Cup side containing Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Bebeto and Denilson.
And he’s got some good players capable of fulfilling his mandate: Lucio and Maicon are two exceptional defenders, and Gilberto Silva is phenomenally experienced (although has he still got the legs to combat midfielders like Xavi, Iniesta, De Rossi, Gerrard and Sneijder?), and it’s possible I grant you, that these players, in contrast to the mess that comprised their forward line in Germany, may provide a solid platform for Kaka and Robinho to shine.
But therein lies the problem – if they don’t, Brazil could well be in trouble; especially considering the fact that both the Ivory Coast and Portugal boast players as unpredictable and talented as theirs. Ronaldo has been far better than Kaka over the last couple of years, and Didier Drogba is a far more complete player than Luis Fabiano.
Furthermore, I’m not sure that their form has been as great as people make out. Yes, they won the confederations cup, but they had to come from two goals down against the USA to do it. And in qualifying for the World Cup they suffered five goalless draws against the likes of Columbia, Bolivia and Venezuela. They were also far from convincing in a friendly win against a severely depleted England side last November.
They’re a good team, for sure, but I don’t think they have the makings of a great one, and not only will the group of death be all the more fascinating for it, but if they do make It through – lets suppose in second place – they could well be playing Spain. Torres, Villa, Xavi, Fabregas, Pique, Puyol, Iniesta, Silva vs Fabiano, Lucio, Robinho, Kaka, Elano, Melo? I know who my money’s on.