Is Brazil really the favorites of the World Cup?

Where were we? At a soccer lesson. On 6 July 2018, Brazil returned home in the quarter-finals against Belgium, winning their first competitive match against Seleçao. It was a more than decent Brazil, certainly superior morally and technically to the Brancaleone army which in the 2014 home World Cup had come further than it should before crashing against Germany; yet he was defeated all the same, subjugated in terms of quality by champions like Hazard and De Bruyne, two champions who played in red and not in yellow that evening, while Neymar limited himself to a few harmless trinkets of his own and in the 93rd minute he saw himself close the damper in the face by a splendid flight of Courtois.

The World Cup is the most conservative competition in the world: if Belgium proves stronger than Brazil to the point of eliminating it, we are dealing with a new and very relevant fact. Denoting a surprising intelligence only on the surface – the Brazilians are an extremely lucid and objective people on things concerning their national football team – there have not been too many dramas or trials: coach Tite has been confirmed, in 2019 a well-deserved Copa América and the 2021 defeat in the Maracanã desert, even against Argentina, did not change the mood and the horizon of events: he goes to Qatar as a team to beat. Even bookmakers from all over the world say so, electing Brazil as the number 1 favorite ahead of France and Argentina. It’s a modern team, as luxuriant as commonplace on the country’s vegetation, which never like this year drinks from the miraculous source of the Premier League: out of 26 called up, the number of players from England reaches double figures, with the entire midfield – Casemiro, Paquetá, Bruno Guimarães, Fabinho, Fred, Coutinho – paid in pounds. In 2002, at the time of the last World Cup won, there wasn’t even one.

In terms of intensity and the habit of shortening the times of the game, it is a decisive mental passage for a school which has never lacked the speed of thought, but which more than once ended up underwater in the face of the unsustainable rhythms of the battleships ” western players”: in the last four World Cups Brazil has been sent home by four different European national teams, France Holland Germany Belgium, and it cannot be a coincidence. Furthermore, the bizarre geographical location of this edition greatly reduces the weight of the field factor but also the pressure of playing at their latitudes, which made the 2014 World Cup a bath of stress and unbearable sweat even before Mineirazo. We don’t know what the average atmosphere of Qatari stadiums will be like, but we suspect that they won’t be boiling furnaces: so much the better for a Brazil that has never been so citizen of the world, with world stars acclaimed and at home in every corner of the globe, even in the anonymous and depressing Late-November Qatar.

The strong points

One can only start with the two goalkeepers, two of the most modern exponents of the role there are: in October both Alisson and Ederson provided an assist in the Premier League, sending Salah and Haaland on goal respectively. However, unless Fifa comes up with other regulatory changes, they will only play one. The central defensive duo is all that is needed to win a World Cup: Thiago Silva and Marquinhos know each other inside out, they also complement each other technically and can be very dangerous even in the opposing area, which doesn’t hurt at all in the decisive matches of the World Cup , when a well-taken set piece often makes the difference. The old Thiago, who turned 38 in September, occasionally shows very human signs of slowing down: yet in Salzburg, in the match that earned Chelsea qualification for the round of 16 of the Champions League, we saw him perform a play of superfine intelligence, sensing a second before that his goalkeeper Kepa would have gone empty and retreated to cover the mirror of the empty goal, thus absorbing the header, otherwise a sure shot, by the Austrian centre-forward. Three seconds on autopilot that define the by now totemic status of this magnificent defender who for eight years has been carrying the stain of the foolish yellow card he received in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup against Colombia which – fortunately or unfortunately – caused him to skip the massacre by disqualification of Belo Horizonte. Tite also laughs at the abundance in attack, which is unprecedented in the last 15 years of the Seleção, so much so that even Rodrygo, best supporting actor in Real Madrid’s incredible Champions League, risked being excluded from the list of 26: other times, compared to when Brazil had to show up at their home World Cup with bollards like Fred, Jo and the Hulk, with the results we all remember.

Eternal Thiago Silva, who counts 109 appearances for the national team since 2008, who is a colossus and still a staple both in the club with which he has recently won a Champions League – Chelsea – and, precisely, in the green and gold. Thiago Silva is indestructible: he hasn’t played less than 30 games a year for 16 consecutive years.

Chapter Neymar: having reached the last of his three World Cups, he has already sent the participations for the mega-festoon celebrating the overtaking of Pelé as the maximum artilheiro of the Seleçao (at the moment O Rey is ahead 77 to 75, but O Ney plans to hook him already in the group stage), in a tournament organized by the same employers who have been paying his salary for six years, Mbappé for six years, Messi for two years. Twelve years after the questionable (understatement) assignment, the Qatar Investment Authority’s plan is now quite open: to own the three most expensive and envied toys on the planet and have them challenge each other in the home garden in the autumn of 2022. However, the well-informed know that the real strength of Brazil is on the left wing, where we are in the presence of one of the strongest players on the planet. According to France Football the strongest Brazilian in the world is Vinícius Júnior, and don’t ask anymore: a boy from 2000 capable of tearing apart any defense, now in his first World Cup in brilliant psycho-physical conditionsalso capable of stealing the show from heralded heroes Messi and Mbappé.

Variety also in the first striker sector, where Gabriel Jesus’ ability in the Strait, regenerated from Arteta’s splendid Arsenal, is the perfect counterpart to Richarlison’s physicality, which we will find on the pitch when Brazil need to lift the ball (it happens often in a World Cup). And watch out for Pedro, super-meteor at Fiorentina three years ago and this year Libertadores top scorer with Flamengo, where however – a reasonable objection – even Gabigol looks like a ball player. Ah, one last thing aimed above all at Juventus fans: you will be amazed at how well Alex Sandro plays in the national team.

The weak points

Even if it is scheduled in the Persian Gulf in the autumn, the World Cup is the most solemn and traditional football competition there is, the only one for which it is really worth bothering with the precedents and the history, all the way up to the Maracanaço of 1950. And therefore we cannot overlook the fact that for at least half a century Brazil has been suffering the benevolence of prognosticators. A favorite Seleção hasn’t won since 1970: in 2002 it started clearly with the lights off, even more so after the injury of the essential Emerson in midfield, and also in 1994 the spotlights were focused on Italy and Germany, or at most on Argentina Maradona. Going down to more prosaic questions, in Brazil they turn up their noses in the face of an overly muscular midfield duo made up of Casemiro and another who has not yet been identified (Fabinho? Fred?), a choice perhaps necessary to support all the talent not inclined to the sacrifice which is found from the trocar upwards.

But many would like the graceful Paquetá, deployed between the two in the middle in the soft September friendlies against Ghana and Tunisia, who would step up in the attacking phase and transform the starting 4-2-3-1 into a 3-2-4 -1 with the ductile Danilo, loyal to Tite, moving from the right wing to midfield. At this point let us recall the essentiality of Casemiro, even now that he has decided to leave Real Madrid for low and understandable reasons of wallet: with the camiseta blanca he won 10 of the 11 international finals played, and in the only one he lost ( the 2018 European Super Cup against Atlético Madrid), went off in the 76th minute as Real Madrid won 2-1. Without him it ended 4-2 for Atlético. And who was disqualified in midfield on the day of Belgium-Brazil 2-1, Kazan Arena, 6 July 2018, quarter-finals of the World Cup in Russia? Exactly.

When Felipe Scolari arrived on the Brazil bench in 2001, the moment was very complicated: before him three coaches had alternated in less than three years, and the Seleçao was in danger of not qualifying for the 2002 World Cup. , Felipão – his historic nickname – completely turned the team upside down: three-man defence, Cafu and Roberto Carlos full-back and Ronaldinho-Rivaldo-Ronaldo trident. The title arrived almost smoothly, and therefore the Federation thought of recalling it for the 2014 home World Cup. There is no need to remember how it ended.

The group

Curiously three-quarters identical to that of Russia 2018, with Serbia and Switzerland already sharpening their claws for a rematch after the turbulent Kaliningrad precedent – ​​remember? Switzerland who wins in the comeback in the 90th minute, Shaqiri who exults in the faces of the Serbs by miming the Albanian eagle with his hands, etc. No one better than us Italians to warn the others not to underestimate Switzerland, while the fact that the Serbs are the crazy variable is nothing more than the obvious: the last time they passed a group they were still called Yugoslavia, and on the Balkan delta between potentiality and practicality could be written as libraries.

The fourth wheel is Cameroon, not to be taken lightly: in the playoff the Indomitable Lions eliminated Algeria, the African champions in daring circumstances, with a goal by Toko Ekambi in the 124th minute of the second leg. In any case, they do not appear to be earthquakes that will prevent the Seleção from winning its group, as it has done in every World Cup since 1982; then in the round of 16 he will probably draw Portugal or Uruguay, and there the bar will rise significantly.

It is Vinícius Júnior’s first World Cup, although it seems strange to us. He hasn’t exploded yet in the national team, but the talent he is expressing this year has never before come out: in 2022/23 he is already in double figures between La Liga, the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.

Side note

The lucky ones present at Manchester United-Sheriff Tiraspol on 27 October were able to witness the Anthony Spin, a somewhat unnecessary circus play in which the talented Man Utd winger spun twice, for a total of 720 degrees, before missing his next deep pass to Casemiro. Antony, and not only him (Neymar was certainly not born today) is the symbol of an even more video-playful generation than the previous ones, well represented in a very recent Pepsi commercial shot in Marrakech in which it seems that the salt of football is the tunnel : a commercial that winks at the Nineties, with Fat Boy Slim in the background and all that anthology of tricks first launched by Nike in 1995 – indeed, if you are between 30 and 40 years old you will certainly have remembered the wonderful spot of Brazil at the airport, before France ’98, without monsters, without aliens, without cages or other post-apocalyptic architectural elements, only a balloon as a tool to chase away boredom.

The Antony Spin is like the trap or TikTok, we are not the reference target: if he ever repeats it at the World Cup – as the Mexican Blanco did for example in an otherwise very forgettable Mexico-South Korea 1998, not to mention the footwork of Denílson also in 1998 against the Netherlands – that number would be magnified a million times. It’s a gesture that may legitimately irritate you, but then you think that for millions of other people it causes hilarity, surprise, amusement, even joy. It is commonplace to associate the word “spectacle” with football, forgetting that a 90-minute game is often made up of Beckett-like waiting, when not exactly boredom, and this very twentieth-century component – they say – is alienating the sympathy of the very young: but then, if the show really comes, what’s the problem?

From Eleven no. 47

Is Brazil really the favorites of the World Cup?