Confederations Cup Preview: Hosts Brazil Face Tough Opposition in Group of Death

It’s been almost two years since Brazil last played a competitive match. It was in a 0-0 penalty kick shootout loss to Paraguay in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Copa America. In less than 24 hours, the five-time world champions look to hit the ground running in their capital city of Brasilia against Japan.

Brazil, the hosts of the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, were drawn into the group of death but will most likely make it out, qualifying to the semi-finals. Japan will probably be Brazil’s easiest group-rival. On the other hand, Mexico has been a problem for Brazil in previous editions of the Confederations Cup, losing to them in the 1999 final and then again in the 2005 group stages. The matchup against the Italians will be more of a challenge, but surely the Brazilians will make that match one to remember for El Shaarawy and his fellow countrymen.

This time around there is no standout superstar for Brazil. No 2009 Luis Fabiano, no 2005 Adriano, no 1999 Ronaldinho, no 1997 Romário. Brazil’s Confederations Cup squad only contains a flashy Neymar, who is not yet anywhere near the skill level of the formerly mentioned Brazilian greats. The youngster will try to prove that he is worthy of being on his new team Barcelona, but it might be too early for little Neymar to put a national team on his back.

Unimpressive in their previous victory in a friendly against a very weak France squad, Brazil didn’t play with that same flair that they normally play with. Although they scored three goals, two coming in the last five minutes of the match, the Brazilians kept a shutout thanks to their powerful backline. Paris Saint-Germain centerback Thiago Silva and Chelsea’s David Luiz comprise the center of the defensive four, a barrier almost too difficult and too strong to get passed. On one side is a left winger Madridista Marcelo, and on the other is Culé Dani Alves, two backs that can play as much offense as they do defense with pin-point crossing. But the most notable is Julio César’s return to the national team. Of all the goalkeepers that Felipe Scolari could have chosen, he elected the goalie of a team going to the second tier of British football. Julio César has seen so many shots and has been on his toes the whole season for Queens Park Rangers that Felipão aptly chose the former Inter keeper to defend the Brazilian net.

Oscar, Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho comprise the midfield. Hulk, Fred, and Neymar will start up top. The midfield is still trying to click with the attackers as Brazil has struggled lately to beat big names on the international scale like England, Colombia and Italy. These matches might foreshadow the difficulty that Brazil might have in the knockout stage of this Confederations Cup in either a semi-final or final against world champions Spain. Even Pelé mentioned that the tournament favorite are the Spaniards.

A widespread belief exists in Brazil amongst the avid soccer supporters that a verdeamarelha is not the favorite to win the World Cup in 2014. Their performance as of late has not impressed their fans and has taken away some of their faith. Although this puts lets pressure on the national team to perform, you can never rule out Brazil from any competition including this year’s Confederations Cup.

In soccer there is a phrase that goes “Brazil is Brazil.” No matter how badly they are playing, Brazil can win. Their experience and wisdom adds something to the game that is inexplicable. So maybe this is Neymar’s tournament. This is his time to shine. Maybe Oscar will “click” with Hulk, and Neymar can find the attacking equilibrium amongst the other forwards. And when Felipe Scolari’s team is put under the competitive spotlight since July 2011, they will begin to play the old-fashioned joga bonito that won them five world championships. The two-time defending Confederations Cup champions will not let this one slide.

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