Brazil shows gambles for the World Cup might be riskier now

Brazil Confederations CupBeing number 22 in the FIFA rankings did wonders to Brazil. As the world of football debates on Spain or Germany on their way to winning the next World Cup, the five-time champions are quietly improving so they could be good next year. Chances were slim when the Confederations Cup began. But now it looks like there is a lot that could happen to them until 12 June 2014.

Getting to the final of the tournament for the fifth time actually wasn’t in Luiz Felipe Scolari’s plans when he was appointed coach in January. And that truly doesn’t matter much. But it was in the Confederation’s Cup he could make his picks make sense, regardless of winning the trophy on Sunday or not. The improvement is already clear, and that is not only because Neymar started to deliver.

After the draw with England in the Maracanã stadium about a month ago, Brazil did nothing but winning. They bulldozed a lazy France 3-0 in a friendly and then convincingly beat Japan, Mexico and Italy to win their Confederations Cup group. It had been long the hosts of the next World Cup hadn’t had such a streak.

The victory against Uruguay, Copa America champions in 2011, showed more than skill — it was a proof the team is not dependent on Neymar in big games. It is now clear Brazil has the patience to play in a less intense way, knowing its pace and being more competitive than flamboyant — just like the World Cup winning teams in 1994 and 2002 were.

Their current generation surely isn’t the brightest, but they now seem to know their limitations. Playing in home ground surely helps, yet it doesn’t explain why Brazil have improved in the last few weeks.

Former coach Mano Menezes was on his way to getting the backbone of Brazil. But he hadn’t finished that process. The extra time Scolari had to build his squad made the Confederation’s Cup important to validate important decisions. Their defenders are now well in place and midfielders seem to be keen on marking.

Scolari has made his team more effective than it was. He found roles for skillful defensive midfielders like Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho, which is surprising for a man who said weeks ago that high scoring defensive midfielders are important just to journalists. He also found his ideal defensive duo in Thiago Silva and David Luiz. And they performed well. His side-backs are also stepping to the attack more than before, and that is also because defenders are well in place.

The improvements are very clear. Still, some of the flaws haven’t disappeared and they might make Brazil lose the trophy not only on Sunday, but also next year.

The transitions to offence are still very slow. They are nothing like Spain, Germany or even Argentina. Hulk and Oscar are surely trying, but their skill in dragging the ball or opening wide doesn’t make the team any faster. That is specially important when you choose to have an old style heavy centre-forward like Fred, Brazil’s number 9 – a man who wouldn’t dare to wear that number a few years ago.

Neymar is still overloaded. When Oscar and Hulk can’t do their job, he has to go back and perform as a classic midfielder — which is not what he is good at. That was clear in the match against Uruguay. Scolari is getting used to hearing the crowds cry for PSG’s Lucas Moura, who is their main option on the bench. The team has improved, but the squad still lacks talent to change matches for Brazil.

It is difficult to say Scolari’s boys now deserve higher bets, even if they are crowned champions of this test event. But what they did do already is showing one year to fight for the Holy Grail is still a lot of time in the football currency. It is even more true when those who will use are Brazil.

Mauricio Savarese is a Brazilian journalist. You can read more of his stuff here and follow him on Journalisted / Twitter.

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