July 9th will go down as one of Brazil’s dark days for eternity.
When Andre Schurrle scored his second goal in the 79th minute of the 2014 World Cup semi-final, Brazil were condemned to one of the most humiliating, humbling defeats the football world had ever seen – and it happened in their own backyard.
The country, as well as the world, were left reeling, the scars and wounds too large to ever fully heal.
Brazil started the tournament comfortably, going through as Group A winners on goal difference ahead of Mexico. The hosts then needed penalties to squeeze past South American rivals Chile before a sublime David Luiz free kick was the difference in the quarter-final against a James Rodriguez-inspired Colombia.
The nation was hoping, believing… it may just happen. How wrong they were.
Many favoured the Selecao to win the whole thing back then, and, four years on, they are once again the front runners in the quest for global glory.
The hunger for redemption
A painful loss in normal circumstances is enough to ignite the desire to seek redemption as soon as possible – a 7-1 defeat in a World Cup semi-final in your home country is another matter.
After finding himself in perhaps the most untenable managerial position ever post-World Cup, then-manager Luis Felipe Scolari immediately resigned.
Dunga returned to the helm and Brazil immediately went about rebuilding. They won their next 11 matches, conceding only three goals. A poor 2015 Copa America campaign saw them exit at the quarter-final stage after a defeat on penalties against Paraguay.
2016’s Copa America Centenario didn’t go much better and saw the Brazilian’s exit the tournament at the group stages for the first time since 1987. The defeat to Peru, a game in which Brazil needed only a point, saw Dunga’s second spell in charge come to and end, as he was replaced by ex-Corinthians boss, Tite.
Since taking over, Tite has a record of only one loss in twenty fixtures. Brazil were also the first nation to gain passage to the 2018 World Cup by rights, storming through the CONMEBOL region qualifying.
While the overall numbers aren’t bad, the lack of success, or rather magnitude of recent failures in the bigger tournaments, is something that needs addressing.
2014’s loss to Germany will never be forgotten. It will have the same harrowing impact as the 1950 defeat to Uruguay.
Even if the Brazilians were to win the next twenty World Cup’s in a row, that match will be a ghost that follows the national team around for decades to come.
One thing is for certain though, the pain, at least from the point of view of a World Cup, will never be fresher, so what better time to set about easing it… the raw emotion of redemption will course through every player.
A nicely balanced squad
Of the 23 players that Tite has selected only five remain from the squad that was so severely dumped from the competition in 2014. Neymar, Thiago Silva, Willian, Fernandinho and Marcelo make up the quintet, and they, more than anyone else, will be eager to banish the memories of four years ago.
While most of the squad play their domestic football in Europe, seven different leagues are represented within the team, across three continents. Europe’s Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Ligue 1 and the Ukrainian Premier League all feature, as does China’s Super League and Brazil’s own Serie A.
Having an array of talent spread so widely over the globe can only be a positive thing. Inter-squad competition is limited (much unlike past issues in England’s squad), and experience of facing opposition from a variety of countries and leagues is brought to the table.
On paper, Brazil’s attacking prowess is frightening. A front three of Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and one of Willian or Philippe Coutinho is enough to spell trouble for any defence.
In midfield, an incredibly mobile and capable crop of players in Fernandinho, Casemiro and Paulinho lie in wait. With the likes of Renato Augusto and Douglas Costa available to help provide pace and technical ability, Brazil’s midfield will be effective.
2014’s World Cup saw Brazil look defensively frail. Conceding a staggering 14 goals in the tournament, it was clear where their weaknesses were.
Dante and the liable Luiz have been replaced by the more composed duo of Marquinhos and Miranda, while the injured Dani Alves has been forced to make way for the less experienced Danilo.
In goal, Tite and Brazil have the rare luxury of choosing between arguably two of Europe’s most capable stoppers in AS Roma’s Alisson, and Manchester City’s Ederson, both of whom can be seen as an upgrade on Julio Cesar.
Defensively stronger, an attack that screams potential to score lots of goals, and a midfield that is balanced enough to provide everything a team needs… the early signs are good.
The road to glory
Brazil have been drawn into Group E alongside Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia.
There are many permutations that could dictate which team faces who in which round, but for this article, it is assumed that the pre-tournament favourites to both win and come second in their groups will do so.
On paper, it’s a group that many would expect Brazil to emerge from comfortably, though the Swiss can often prove tricky opponents, and Costa Rica has surprised us all before.
Winning the group can make things somewhat easier for teams later down the line, and in Brazil’s case, they’ll probably have an eye on avoiding finishing second.
Group E’s winners and runners-up will cross over with Group F’s. Meaning that were Brazil to win the group as expected, they will probably meet Mexico in the first knockout stage.
Germany are also in Group F, and are expected to win it, but should neither they nor Brazil do as expected, the 2014 repeat may happen two rounds sooner.
In the quarter-finals, a match with Belgium is a probable outcome, followed by the potential of a mouth-watering clash with France. Come through the semi-final unscathed, then a showdown between Brazil and World Champions Germany is a potential scenario.
The potential route:
- Group Stage: 1st Place
- Round of 16: vs Mexico
- Quarter-Final: vs Belgium
- Semi-Final: vs France
- Final: vs Germany
Brazil can go all the way
With the potential for an earlier-than-planned meeting with Germany, Brazil will be eager to dominate proceedings in the group stages and push back a potential meeting. The rest of the path, should it go to plan, looks navigable, and a meeting in the final with Germany would be an opportunity they, and the world, would relish.
The fitness and sharpness of Neymar might prove key though his recovery is almost complete after appearing for the final 20 minutes in the recent win over Croatia.
The depth in attacking options is vast, though, with Taison, Roberto Firmino and Douglas Costa all capable of jostling for a position in the starting XI.
The biggest monkey on the back of all will be the haunting memories of 2014.
Brazil will need a solid start to nullify any question of nerves or apprehensiveness – do that, and they are serious contenders to lift the trophy on July 15.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group D in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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