Brazil Versus the GhostsBy: Juan Mesa
HOW DID THEY GET HERE: As the host nation, Brazil was automatically granted a spot in the World Cup, skipping the hell of playing the competitive South American qualification tournament. The lack of official competition had Brazil playing a lot of friendly games over the past four years. And the mixed result in the sparring matches led to the sacking of coach Mano Menezes in late 2012. The five-time champions then called Luiz Felipe Scolari, the man who led them to their last world title in the Korea/Japan 2002 World Cup. Scolari proved he was the man for the job when Brazil beat world champions Spain 3-0 in the Confederations Cup final last summer.
BIGGEST STRENGTH: Forget about jogo bonito: today’s Brazil is a tactical machine. The defense is led by Paris Saint-Germain’s Thiago Silva and Chelsea’s David Luiz, while the middle has the versatile trio of Ramires, Paulinho and Fernandinho running all over the field. With their strong defense system, all Neymar and the rest of the strikers have to do to take Brazil to the final is to score goals.
BIGGEST WEAKNESS: The incredibly high expectations—both because of its unmatched achievements and because of being the host country—make Brazil’s road to the title a house haunted with all sorts of ghosts. The main one is, of course, 1950’s Maracanazo, when they lost the final to Uruguay 2-1 at home. A more recent ghost is the discontent of many Brazilians with the millions spent on the World Cup while the lacking social services have stayed the same. If the massive protests of last year come back during the tournament, the team will have even more pressure to lift the trophy and cool things off. Finally, is Neymar as good as Pelé, Romario, Ronaldo or Ronaldinho? Those are tough ghosts to beat.
WORLD CUP CHANCES: Beating Croatia, Cameroon and Mexico in Group A should be an easy task. And then there are four more games to win before earning their sixth World Cup. It’s hard to imagine Brazil not winning the tournament, and devastating (to say the least) for almost everybody to imagine them not getting to the final. Victory is, basically, in their hands.
FUN FACT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Maracanazo is not the only disappointment in Brazilian soccer. The squad that failed to win the Spain 1982 World Cup is remembered as one of the best teams to ever play the game—the equivalent of the recent Barcelona of Guardiola. The failure of Zico, Sócrates, Falcao and Junior was so traumatic that the newer generations of coaches were forced to approach a more moderated game-style.
IF THEY WERE A SONG, IT WOULD BE: “Peer Pressure” by Mobb Deep.