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Brazil need to lay down a big marker against Cameroon

Luiz Felipe Scolari defends his side and says he’s satisfied with the way they are playing

There’s no lack of passion from Brazil’s Marcelo, David Luiz and Julio Cesar as they sing their national anthem before the game against Mexico.

The first thing Argentina had to contend with upon their arrival in Belo Horizonte was a banner at their base welcoming “the next World Champions”. The intended jinx was soon removed but those behind it must be a little concerned that if the host nation doesn’t start to find their rhythm at this tournament then it might yet prove to be prophetic.

Lionel Messi and co have some improving of their own to do if they are go all the way, but with two wins from two they are at least in the next round and the Barcelona star has shown so far that he is playing well enough to get them out of a tight corner when the need arises.

Brazil’s draw against Mexico has left them still needing to nail down their place in the last 16 and while a draw will do them and even a defeat might be survivable, Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side could do with sending a message to their bigger rivals that there are more reasons than just history and home advantage to their challenge over the coming weeks.

In their two games so far, they’ve done little to justify their status as pre-tournament favourites. They appear to have so many shortcomings and, unlike Messi, Neymar has not looked like a player who can singlehandedly haul the five times champions to title number six.

Remains defiant

The local media have not been shy about voicing its concerns but an increasingly irritated Scolari remains defiant. “In my opinion – it’s my own, not that of the critics – the team played better than they did against Croatia,” he said in the aftermath of the drawn Mexico game.

“There was at least an extra 10 per cent than what there was against Croatia. The team has evolved. We can still improve, but we can still qualify for the next round. We showed quality, so I am satisfied.”

Notwithstanding the fact that it took an astonishing save by Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa to keep a first-half Neymar header out on Tuesday, there’s general agreement that the hosts were disappointing in the game and that finding another gear or two will be required in the second round and beyond, assuming things do not go entirely pear-shaped tonight.

The most obvious problem is the lack of a quality striker, a handicap Scolari failed to overcome during his time with Portugal at Euro 2004, with Fred looking desperately poor so far and his back-up, Jo, not inspiring much confidence as an alternative. In fact, few of the team have played well, with only Thiago Silva, against Mexico anyway, and Dani Alves emerging from the games to date with much credit.

With Hulk injured, the introduction of Ramires for last week’s game should have been a step forward but he made little impact and for all the talk of “evolution” the bulky Zenit player seems likely to return tonight at the Chelsea player’s expense although there is an outside chance that Shaktar’s Bernard will get a start.

On the evidence of what we have seen so far, Inter’s Hernanes, Chelsea’s Willian and Bayern’s Dante would all improve the team. Willian’s introduction, after a good season in England, could dispense with the need to bring back the remarkably over rated – well, over valued at least – Hulk and, if Ramires was given another chance, would allow for Neymar to be used up front.

Critical part

In training over the weekend, however, Scolari looked to be shaping up to revert to the side that started against Croatia, when dubious refereeing decisions played a critical part in his team’s 3-1 success.

It may not matter tonight against a Cameroon side that embarrassed themselves in their last outing, a 4-0 defeat by Croatia during which one of their few players of real quality – Alex Song – got himself sent off for a ridiculous first-half foul before Benoit Assou Ekotto appeared to head-butt team-mate Benjamin Moukandjo during an on-field row.

The team’s German coach, Volker Finke, who has had a fair bit to put up with of late, described the performance as “a disgrace”, a sentiment echoed by the national federation, which had to deal with the threat of a player boycott over bonuses before the tournament started.

With the team already out, Song, inevitably, suspended, Finke expected to drop Assou Ekotto and Samuel Eto’o likely to miss out again with a knee injury, there seems little basis for optimism as the team prepares to face a side they have only ever beaten once, back in 2003 at the Confederations Cup.

Brazil, indeed, have won six games out of six against African teams in the World Cup and it would be quite something if that is not seven out of seven by close of business tonight, with Scolari perhaps believing that his first choice line-up – Fred included – can boost confidence levels with a convincing victory.

About the best case that can be made for Cameroon is the fact that they have little left to lose and a fair bit of lost pride to play for; something Brazil defender David Luiz touched upon when asked about the game.

“We will be facing a team that comes without any responsibility,” he said. “Their players will want to show that they can do better than they did in the first two matches. A victory against the hosts would be like a title to them,” said Luiz

Sadly only the title itself will feel like success for the locals.