Brazil Neymar

World Cup 2022: Can favourites Brazil finally win again?


It’s been 20 years since Brazil won the World Cup. Has their time come once more?

You can’t often hear gasps on social media, but this time you could.

Brazil announced their squad for the World Cup on November 7, lighting up many a grey European Monday morning with beautiful reaction videos from a range of players including Antony and Bruno Guimarães as they and their families learned of their inclusions in the group – Flamengo’s Pedro even used the moment to propose to his girlfriend.

The real intake of breath, though, was that of the general public, faced with Tite’s 26 chosen ones and realising just what a task their team – any team – would face in besting them in Qatar.

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Group G

Brazil
Serbia
Switzerland
Cameroon

Pre-tournament signals are promising

The collective and individual strength is something to behold. As Premier League fans struggled to get their heads around the non-inclusion of in-form stars like Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino and Gabriel Magalhães of Arsenal, it was quite clear just what a task it will be to keep Brazil away from a sixth World Cup.

The form is currently as encouraging as the depth. The Brazilians are 15 unbeaten heading into the opener against Serbia and have won the last seven of those matches. Tite’s team won the wild west of South American qualification at a canter, finishing unbeaten and six points ahead of Argentina, with comfortably the best attack and the best defence in the pool.

So from an ability perspective, you can understand why the world’s internet net-twitchers needed a collective sit-down on the squad’s announcement. The quality is there, without question.

Team over self, head over heart

It is also clear that Tite’s ethic is a team one. Richarlison will start, despite not always doing so for Tottenham. He has scored seven of the goals in the current winning run but offers so much more in terms of leading the line, doing the dirty work so Neymar, Raphinha, Lucas Paqueta and the rest can flourish.

Similarly, Fred is expected to start in midfield ahead of Bruno Guimarães, one of the Premier League’s best players of 2022. The former’s form might be a mixed bag for Manchester United but he is high-performing for his country, and he is trusted.

Fred and Bruno compared

Already, it is clear that being able to master the emotional side of the challenge is what will go a long way to deciding whether Brazil will leave Doha with a bit of extra bling in their luggage on Monday December 19th.

Their hosting of World Cup 2014 and their meltdown before, during and after the semi-final with Germany is one of the most seismic occurrences of the competition’s history and that sticks in the memory.

Yet an inability to have head govern heart also led to premature exits in 2010, when Dunga’s team lost all composure in the second half of the quarter-final against the Netherlands, and last time out in 2018, when they were tactically outsmarted by Roberto Martínez and Belgium at the same stage.

That’s why Tite is looking for - as all good international coaches should - grounding and balance, the best team as opposed to necessarily the best 11 players.

Neymar's day of reckoning

The non-negotiable, of course, is Neymar. The view of Brazil’s star is very different inside and outside his home nation, but one thing all the world can agree on is that the next few weeks in Qatar will have a huge bearing on defining how his career is viewed when it is all over.

The idea that a player of his stature should still have to prove himself to a certain extent is remarkable when you look at the numbers (over 100 goals for Santos, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain) and the trophies (which include six league titles in Europe, a Champions League and a Copa Libertadores just for starters), but that is where he is. As is, you could argue, his clubmate Lionel Messi to a lesser extent.

That Neymar should find himself in this position at the age of 30 is an indicator of the unbearable pressure that he has been under for all his career, since he was a feted teenager back in Brazil.

Some will argue he could have adopted a more discreet public persona, but his output on the field is unquestionable. Teammates at all his clubs have loved him for his application and his commitment, and he is closing on Pele’s national team goalscoring record, sitting just two behind O Rei (though the CBF have slightly bigger numbers for Pelé than the internationally recognised ones).

Brazil top goalscorers

Most importantly for the here and now, Neymar is in absolutely sensational form. He was widely spoken about as a deadweight at the start of the season, on an untradeable contract that PSG were stuck with and that nobody else would dream of taking on.

Yet he has thrown himself into this campaign with vigour, having a great pre-season and reaping the benefits. Barely into November he is already in double figures for both goals and assists, underlining his workrate and his ability to create something from nothing. If he continues in this vein, there is every possibility he will be the star of this World Cup.

It looked as if Neymar would carry Brazil all the way in 2014 – and the way the team emotionally collapsed without him following his injury (as well as the banned Thiago Silva) showed how much he is relied upon.

It would be far healthier if he was appreciated rather than put on such a pedestal, though it is hard to avoid those feelings about Neymar when he is in full flow. If Brazil can find that balance between valuing him and continuing to function so well as a collective, they will be the team to beat in Qatar.

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