The Plan | The term Neymardependência (Neymar dependency) has been used a lot by the Brazilian press in the past decade and in particular after the exits from the past two World Cups. But the emergence of a talented new generation of strikers means that the expression has been largely forgotten. These days the head coach, Tite, can call on a wealth of young attacking talent.
“At the time of the 2019 Copa América, we didn’t have Antony and Raphinha and Vini [Vinicius Jnr] was still adapting at Real Madrid and Gabriel Martinelli was just training with us,” Tite said in October. “Now this generation has really arrived and wow! It was the progress of these players that has enabled us to play with five attack-minded players at the same time.”
At the start of last year, for example, Tite was not aware of Raphinha but his scouring team alerted him to the then Leeds forward and he is set to be a starter in Qatar. Add to that players such as Richarlison (Tottenham) and Lucas Paquetá (West Ham), who are set to be at their first World Cups, and it is clear that Tite is spoilt for choice.
While there is a youthful air to the attack, the defence brings experience and reassurance. In goal, Alisson will be playing his second World Cup as a started and in defence Thiago Silva could become the oldest outfield player to play for Brazil at a World Cup. The midfield anchor is Casemiro, a relative spring chicken at the age of 30 but the holder of more than 60 international caps already. His importance to the Canarinho cannot be understated and it was telling that he was suspended as they were eliminated by Belgium at the quarter-final stage of the 2018 World Cup.
Neymar is of course still there and the undisputed star of the team but the difference this time is that he won’t have all the spotlight on him. A division of responsibilities may well help Brazil as they go looking for a sixth World Cup title.
The Coach | Tite was hired as a firefighter in 2016 when Brazil were an unthinkable sixth in the South American qualifying group for the World Cup in Russia. Seven consecutive wins later they were the first country to qualify for the tournament. “My whole career hung on that opportunity,” he said in a recent interview. The 61-year-old had waited a long time for this chance, having been a manager since the early 1990s for many, many clubs in Brazil (Coritnhians three times). This time the calm and professorial coach enters a World Cup more experienced and having had more time to work with the players. He expects to go further than in 2018. “The process gives us security and confidence,” he says, but adds “But whether that is going to make us champions or not is another story.”
Star Player | This will be Neymar’s third World Cup and has unfinished business at the biggest stage of all. At the home World Cup he was injured against Colombia in the quarters and missed the humiliating 7-1 defeat against Germany in the last four while in Russia four years ago he played well but his performances were overshadowed by videos and memes of him rolling around on the pitch after fouls. It made him into a bit of a joke. It feels as if the PSG forward has matured since then and will be eager to show he can be a leader for his generation on the pitch. Unless he changes his mind, this will be his last World Cup.
Unsung Hero | Playing as the No 9 for Brazil at a World Cup always comes with great expectations. Twenty years ago in Japan and South Korea Ronaldo was the top scorer of the World Cup, including two in the final against Germany. Brazil have not won the World Cup since. For the past two World Cups the designated No 9 has failed to live up to performances (Fred in 2014 and Gabriel Jesus four years later) but this time there are hopes that Richarlison can excel in the role. The signs are good with the Tottenham player they call The Pombo (The Pigeon) is Brazil’s second best scorer with 16 goals since Brazil, only Neymar scoring one more.
Probable Line-up | (4-3-3) Alisson; Danilo, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, Alex Sandro; Casemiro, Fred, Neymar; Paquetá, Raphinha e Richarlison
Qatar Stance | It is rare for Brazilian players to talk about issues off the pitch and political ones in particular and they have not yet commented on the human rights situation in Qatar or the issues concerning workers’ rights. The Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF in Portuguese) organises campaigns to combat racism and homophobia in domestic football but it has not made any official statements regarding the World Cup host country.
National Anthem | Almost a century separates music and lyrics of the Hino Nacional. Around 1830, when Brazil was not yet a republic, the musician Francisco Manuel da Silva composed the vibrant and triumphant melody but the lyrics were not written until 1909 when Duque Estrada’s words won a competition to have the words attached to it. It became official in 1922 — the centenary year of Brazil’s independence from Portugal. The anthem celebrates a country of “heroic people” and a nation “giant by nature”, glorifying its natural riches.
Cult Hero | Garrincha. When Pelé injured himself in the second match of the 1962 World Cup in Chile, a man who became known as the “crooked-legged angel” took over the baton and led Brazil to their second World Cup. Garrincha, Botafogo’s right winger, was a synthesis of the Brazilian way of playing football. He had an abundance of talent,he was carefree, loved to dribble and was basically having a party on the pitch. Brazil never lost when he and Pelé played together for them. In the 1962 World Cup he was the best player of the tournament, scoring four goals. Sadly, things were not as easy for him off the pitch and he struggled with alcoholism throughout his adult life and died of liver damage at the age of 49.