With the start of the World Cup only a couple of weeks away, global attention will turn to Brazil as 32 teams battle it out for the most distinguished of footballing glories.
Proven Quality will preview the competing teams in the build-up to the tournament, assessing their chances, identifying their stars and giving you everything you need to know about the respective nations before the tourament starts.
With eight groups and five weeks of action to enjoy, where better than to start than with the hosts – Brazil.
The expectation that the competition hosts can add to their record five World Cup successes this summer is astronomical, with pressure on the current crop of Seleção to deliver.
Home advantage is a real bonus in any major tournament and the hosts certainly have quality players across the board.
Widely expected to be the dominant force in Group A alongside Mexico, Croatia and Cameroon, if and when they get into the knockout rounds expect local fervor to intensify.
There were no major surprises when the Brazil squad for the competition was announced, with continuity amongst the included players.
Manchester City’s Fernandinho pushed his way into the contingent instead of Lucas Leiva, while Paris Saint-Germain’s impregnable centre-half Thaigo Silva leads the group as captain.
Goalkeepers: Júlio César (Toronto FC), Jefferson (Botafogo), Victor (Atlético Mineiro)
Defenders: David Luiz (Paris-Saint Germain), Dante (Bayern Munich), Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain), Henrique (Napoli), Maicon (Roma), Dani Alves (Barcelona), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Maxwell (Paris Saint-Germain)
Strikers: Hulk (Zenit St. Petersburg), Bernard (Shakhtar Donetsk), Neymar (Barcelona), Jô (Atlético Mineiro), Fred (Fluminense)
With any Brazilian national squad, there are always going to be players of ability that will not make the cut. This time around, it is seemingly established stars that will have to support their nation from the sidelines.
Experienced campaigners such as Kaká, Robinho and Ronaldinho, with an astonishing 277 caps between them, have all been overlooked.
One man that can feel slightly aggrieved to not be given a chance is PSG’s Lucas Moura, who has played an important role in his club’s successful domestic campaign. Bernard and Willian were the players preferred to the 21-year-old.
Luiz Felipe Scolari is a likeable character and a man well-respected in his homeland – especially given that he led Brazil to their last World Cup triumph in 2002.
The 65-year-old went on to coach Portugal for five years after this, but it seems that club management was not the best fit, with a number of underwhelming spells in different countries.
The collective verdict was seemingly out on predecessor Mano Menezes and as such a familiar face was reinstated in 2012.
However, given that he had just been the man to get one of the nation’s biggest clubs, Palmeiras, relegated, Big Phil seems to be riding the crest of the 2002 wave.
Brazil will line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with attacking football the order of the day. Expect them to have a lot of the ball in the games they play and to commit men forward. However, against better opposition, don’t be surprised to see them punished on the counter attack.
Júlio César is a 100 per cent starter for the side, while Silva and either Dante or David Luiz will feature at the heart of the defence.
Brazil’s full-backs will look to get forward at every opportunity; probably a reason for a lack of out-and-out wingers in the squad and Moura’s exclusion.
Neymar is the undoubted superstar and posterboy for the hosts, with the Barcelona man set to start from the left and look to inspire those around him with his individualism.
It will be interesting to see who Scolari partners with Luiz Gustavo in the heart of his midfield; established starting XI man Paulinho, who is out-of-form, or Premier League title-winner Fernandinho. Hernanes is the other option, but this seems unlikely.
In attack, Fluminense’s Fred is the likely lone frontman. The 30-year-old has shown that he can score at national level, but is not the big-name number nine that Brazilian fans have become accustomed to over the years.
Neymar – Brazilian fans have become accustomed to seeing the mercurial attacker do magical things with the ball at his feet, with it becoming immediately apparent that the ex-Santos man’s club future was in Europe with the best players in the world.
At Barcelona Neymar has shown glimpses of his ability in his debut campaign, but he seems most at home in a Brazil shirt.
The shows of skill and tricks may well work with devastating effect against lesser opposition, but come the business end of the tournament Brazil will need their attacking talisman to deliver an end product.
One to look out for
Willian – Apart from the afore-mentioned selection dilemma in central midfield, Brazil’s team seems set to virtually pick itself bar one position; right wing.
Willian and Bernard are two attacking options to fill the role, while Ramires would offer an industrious presence if selected.
However, the Chelsea winger has grown in stature in the Premier League as the English season progressed and has become an important man for the West London club.
Despite only five caps to his name so far, Willian will be there-or-thereabouts when Scolari picks his side to open the competition against Croatia. If given a run in the team, he could be a real star.
As hosts, Brazil have had less competitive football than the other participating nations in the build-up to the tournament. That said, their form in last summer’s Confederations Cup and in friendly fixtures has been excellent.
The hosts will surely get through their group, but will have a real task on their hands in the round of 16; potential opponents include current champions Spain, Netherlands or Chile.
If they can overcome this relatively early test, Brazil have every chance of crowning glory on home soil.