Five-time winners Brazil are given the confident selection for World Cup glory as Matt Brocklebank takes a look at the outright betting market.
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BRAZIL are strongly fancied to return to the summit of international football with World Cup victory in Russia.
The five-time winners suffered one of the most humiliating and famous defeats in the history of the game when beaten 7-1 by Germany on home soil in the semi-finals four years ago, and it’s taken a while to exorcise the demons.
At the time, replacing the disgraced Luiz Felipe Scolari with former World Cup-winning skipper Dunga made a fair degree of sense, but after a pleasing start the Brazil team soon fell back into the battering-ram, discipline-first habits that had become the norm by the end of Dunga’s first spell in charge between 2006 and 2010.
Tite, waiting in the wings four years ago, was made to wait a couple of seasons to take the reins but has since completely transformed the side for the better following his appointment in June 2016, immediately guiding Brazil's youngsters to Olympic glory in Rio.
The significance of that triumph can hardly be over-stated, given they beat Germany on penalties in the final with star man Neymar enjoying a fantastic time of things, scoring four goals.
Brazil have lost just one game all told under the current manager, a friendly last summer against Argentina held in Australia, and have won 10 of their 12 competitive matches.
By the end of the drawn out South American qualification, which had started with a stutter under Dunga, the Selecao ultimately ended with a dozen wins, five draws and just one defeat from the 18 played, becoming the first nation to confirm their place at the finals alongside hosts Russia.
In doing so Brazil scored 41 goals and ended with a +30 goal difference on account of also having by far the best defensive record (conceded 11).
Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus, who leads the line ahead of Neymar and Philippe Coutinho, was their top scorer in qualifying with seven goals but he was backed up by four others who scored at least four goals, highlighting the strength in depth and, perhaps more importantly, reduced pressure on the PSG superstar.
His injury prior to that defeat at the hands of Germany threw the whole nation and several of his then team-mates into complete turmoil and while he suffered another untimely setback following a broken metatarsal in February, recent showings in friendlies are clearly encouraging. He could realistically resume as fit as ever and fresh as paint following the enforced break.
He’s an exceptional talent but this Brazil team is exactly that and, to Tite’s credit, so far removed from the one-dimensional group that went into the last edition of the tournament.
From back to front, there is class and versatility, starting with two of the best goalkeepers in the world, a position where Man City’s Ederson is generally kept on the bench by Alisson of Roma.
Inter Milan’s Miranda and Marquinhos of PSG form an experienced and solid central pairing at the back, while the options at full-back mask the undeniable fact injured veteran Dani Alves will be missed.
Playmaker Renato Augusto has top-class cover from the improved Fernandinho at the base of the midfield, with Barcelona’s Paulinho not only acting as the engine room of the side but also popping up with late runs into danger-areas.
These three players form the perfect base on which Neymar, an in-form Coutinho and Jesus shine and with familiar faces Willian, Roberto Firmino and Real Madrid’s Casemiro all likely to be needed along the way, there will be no let-up for any opposition.
The 1-0 friendly win over Germany in Berlin in March felt like another significant marker laid down by Tite’s Brazil and providing they both win their groups, the two market leaders won’t meet again until the final in Moscow, providing Germany can negotiate a likely meeting with Spain in the semis.
Brazil can uphold their part of the bargain with Costa Rica, Serbia and Switzerland providing a gentle introduction in Group E and the first major test is possibly going to be posed by France in a potential semi-final.
France, beaten finalists at Euro 2016 when hosts, are another nation looking to draw upon the disappointment of one noteworthy defeat.
Didier Deschamps made some questionable tactical decisions late on in that competition and won’t get many more chances with Arsene Wenger looming large over the international scene, but it’s no surprise to see Deschamps given another chance.
And the core of his quality squad looks ripe for success if they can play as one for an entire tournament. The emergence of Kylian Mbappe as a World Cup star is a particularly exciting prospect and it would be great to see Paul Pogba return to playing with freedom at the heart of the France midfield.
Uruguay are another team drawn in what looks a soft group and a World Cup without Luis Suarez doing something extraordinary just wouldn’t seem right.
Manager Oscar Tabarez, now deep into his second stint in charge of Uruguay, helped the dual winners finish fourth in the 2010 World Cup and win the 2011 Copa America, and this latest version of his team includes some exciting talent, including 19-year-old Federico Valverde who has caught the eye on loan from Real Madrid at Deportivo this season.
They chased home Brazil in the qualification standings and look a big price at 33/1 in relation to England (18/1) and Argentina (9/1), who perhaps perversely suffer to some extent at the hands of Lionel Messi's individual brilliance.
Cases can be made for the technically proficient Croatia and far more unpredictable Colombia at even greater odds, but at 9/2, a reformed and reinvigorated Brazil are impossible to oppose and should be backed accordingly.
Posted at 1100 BST on 24/05/18
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