Big Phil's Brazil built for power and pace

The manager may be conservative but a settled team know exactly what he wants

Second Captain Ken Early and South America Correspondent Tom Hennigan are on the ground in Sao Paulo to preview the World Cup tournament. Video: David McKechnie


“For all Brazilians. I want to say our time has arrived. We want to go together. This is our World Cup. ”

Luis Felipe Scolari spoke with the same cool conviction he believes his Brazil team will take on to the field as the 2014 World Cup kicks-off tonight.

“We have seven steps. We have to go up these seven steps but, to start, we have to think of the first step. We can’t jump the seven. The idea I transmit to my team is that we have the first step against Croatia. ”

Workers are still hurriedly putting the finishing touches to the €280m São Paulo Arena, but Scolari’s team has been ready to go for a year.

He found a combination that worked on the way to winning last summer’s Confederations Cup, and now intends sticking to his preferred XI.

It’s a conservative approach reminiscent of Giovanni Trapattoni’s selection policy for Euro 2012, and has its drawbacks. One reason why Diego Costa is now a Spanish rather than a Brazilian international is he suspected he had little chance of dislodging centre forward Fred in time for the World Cup.

On the other hand, Scolari’s resistance to change means Brazil are a settled team. Everybody knows where they stand and what is expected .

The coach is one who believes the race is not always to the swift nor yet battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.

Powerful athletes

His team is packed with powerful athletes, from David Luiz and Thiago Silva at the back, through Luis Gustavo and Paulinho in midfield, to Hulk and Fred in attack. This muscle-bound Brazil will intimidate and bully opponents, particularly if the home crowds influence the referees to be lenient .

Only two players do not fit the muscular template. Neymar and Oscar, the two youngest players in the side, are the ghost in Scolari’s machine.

Oscar’s place in the team has become the only contentious issue for a Brazilian media starved of talking points.

The size-zero Chelsea midfielder is fronting a campaign for Calvin Klein and his bony frame adorns giant posters in São Paulo metro stations. Unfortunately, Oscar has carried his ineffectual form from the second half of Chelsea’s season into the recent Brazil friendlies. Some are now calling for his club-mate Willian to start in his place.

But like Trapattoni, Scolari is unlikely to be swayed by anything that looks like a media campaign. Oscar will start against Croatia, and his place will only come under real pressure if he plays badly.

It might seem more logical to put Willian on the right side of the attack in favour of Hulk. But Scolari is fond of Hulk; no footballer at this World Cup knows better how to fill out a shirt. Hulk is aware of his strengths and plays to them predictably, always seeking to shift the ball onto his left foot and blast in fierce shots: imagine the half-way point between Arjen Robben and a buffalo. Willian is a more complete footballer, but Hulk is the man in possession.

Sacrificial victims

Croatia’s assigned role is to be sacrificial victims and the loss of preferred left back Daniel Pranjic to an ankle injury compounds the damage done by the suspension of centre forward Mario Mandzukic for his red card in the qualifying play-off against Iceland.

However, Croatia will enter the arena in hope. This is a side that can call on three brilliant midfield players: Luka Modric, a European champion with Real Madrid, Ivan Rakitic, who masterminded Sevilla’s victorious Europa League campaign, and 20-year old Mateo Kovacic of Inter. Kovacic is the reason Inter were prepared to let Philippe Coutinho join Liverpool last year for a giveaway €10 million.

During Tuesday’s training session, Scolari received the news that his nephew had been killed in a car accident in the coach’s home state of Rio Grande do Sul. The coach opted against taking compassionate leave.

“We do what we have to do and we go on,” he said last night. “I find my strength from working with these players. They dedicate themselves every day.

“They are always trying to improve. And this makes us, even when we’re feeling sad, forget the sadness and feel the beauty of what is happening around you.

“Arriving at the Corinthians stadium, in fact it’s a beautiful stadium, we forget some sad aspects and we think of the positive side of 95 per cent of our life and we go on.”

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