Brazil - World Cup 2014 Team Profile
Sean O'Conor reports
Road to Brazil
Qualified automatically as hosts
Brazil Kit 1
Brazil Kit 2
With the expectation as high as Sugar Loaf Mountain, the draw in Group A could hardly have been kinder on the host nation.
Mexico have the inspiration of their Olympic win over Brazil to draw upon but are still in therapy from a nightmare qualification. Cameroon have been unimpressive so neither El Tri nor the Indomitable Lions should be capable of living with the selecao on this stage.
Their hardest initial test is their first one. Croatia and their elegant midfield of Mateo Kovacic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic present the largest potential banana skin. Opening games are usually tetchy ones with the world's anticipation about to burst. If the yellow and green can just find the net their nerves will be eased and they can start to enjoy their football.
Do not expect El Jogo Bonito from Brazil. The last Brazilian team to play with real flair was as far back as 1982 and Pele's famous phrase has become a lyrical myth. While today's side is not as stuffed with destroyers as it was in the 1990s and noughties, it is not made up of eleven ball wizards either.
The goalkeeper Julio Cesar is good but not outstanding, the centre-backs sound and the full-backs overlap in the Brazilian tradition. The midfield and main striker are functional, allowing what flair there may be to spring from the trio buzzing around Fred in attack.
Without qualifiers, Brazil's only competitive games came in last summer's Confederations Cup, where they made light work of Japan, Italy, Mexico and Uruguay before thumping a tired Spain 3-0 in the final.
In recent friendlies the winning streak has continued, albeit against the modest talents of Honduras, Panama and South Africa. Their toughest test was a 2-1 home win against Chile in November of 2013. Their final warm-up game was a laboured 1-0 victory over Serbia in Sao Paulo which had the home crowd whistling their own team.
Brazil use the common 4-2-3-1 shape but with their full-backs bombing forward Roberto Carlos-style to bolster the attack it turns into more of a 2-5-3. Barcelona right-back Dani Alves is found as much in the opposing third as his own and expect Real Madrid's Marcelo at left-back to be linking up with Neymar in attack.
PSG's Thiago Silva provides muscle, pace and reliability in central defence and at 29 is one of the team's elder statesmen. Beside him is Chelsea's David Luiz, who is an adequate if flawed defender yet morphs into an assured general when bringing the ball out, as he does habitually for his club but more reluctantly for his country.
Tottenham's Paulinho adds some grace and delicacy to the centre of midfield, as well as useful box-to-box sorties, while Wolfsburg's Luiz Gustavo sits alongside him as the holding midfielder to stop the counter-attacks. Their double-act proved a success at the Confederations Cup in 2013.
The trident ahead of them is where the world expects the magic. Chelsea's skilful Oscar is the hub and his creative brain will be on overdrive in Brazil. Intelligent movement, the creation of space and crisp passing are his assets and opposing defences would do as well to mark him as much as Neymar out of the game.
Neymar, the nation's poster boy should operate on the left and Hulk, built like his namesake and with a left foot to boot, on the right. Willian, also of Chelsea, can fill in anywhere.
Fred, the centre-forward, is a Diego Costa-style of penalty box predator, using strength, speed and firepower to score goals. The Fluminense looks a little ungainly and is the wrong side of 30, but Scolari has faith in him as a source of goals and 17 in 34 seem to confirm that. His substitute is Jo, the 27 year-old top-scorer from Copa Libertadores winners Atletico Mineiro last year.
The focus of attention of course will be on Neymar, which is somewhat odd because he will not be playing in the blue riband role of centre forward. When he has been tried as a No.9 he has failed to dazzle, and seems most dangerous lurking on the left of the front three.
Scolari's final clues to his lineup came in their last warm-up game against Serbia. Brazil played 4-3-3 with Cesar in goal, Alves, Silva, Luiz and Marcelo in defence, Luiz Gustavo, Paulinho and Oscar in the middle and Hulk, Fred and Neymar in attack.
The selecao are the hosts so will not be sitting far back waiting for the long-range counter, but taking the game to their opponents with quick thrusts from the fullbacks and pressing high up the field. They are a muscular side with speed and good feet and will be hard to dominate.
Their physical condition will be paramount, as the summer heat will sap sides less familiar with the conditions and even the South American grass, which is said to have a particular bounce, will give them an edge.
Keeping the ball is important, so their opponents exhaust themselves chasing it, but the home crowd, who jeered the selecao against Serbia, will jeer them again if they play 'pass-enaccio' instead of trying to impose themselves with positive forward movement.
Only four of the side played in 2010, and Neymar and Oscar are only 22, which leaves their lack of experience a potential flaw. Do they know how to play on the back foot or chase the game when more experienced adversaries are parking the bus and shutting up shop? On the other hand, the 2010 team were stuffed with stars but failed to fight back against Holland and the youthful squad Scolari has picked will be playing at home, where fighting spirit will be a given.
Tactically, an obvious thing to exploit is the space vacated by their flying full-backs and desire to funnel men forward into attack. Alves has been exposed by pace a few times for Barcelona and if he and Marcelo are upfield when Brazil lose the ball, they will need to hurtle back.
The midfield is lighter than previous incarnations, but quick enough to cover the space, while the defence looks solid enough as long as Luiz curbs his attacking instincts from central defence.
The other question mark is the fact few of the team play in Brazil, which in the past has been a recipe for elimination. Their No.2 and 3 goalies are home-based, so only Fred and Jo of the possible outfield players ply their trade in their own country.
While playing in Europe is seen as the pinnacle of a player's career, the wisdom of scurrying to the highest wages overseas is not universally accepted in Brazil and many think Neymar should not have gone to Barcelona.
That said, Scolari has given youth a chance and rejuvenated a squad which showed in 2010 it was past its best. Only Julio Cesar in goal and defenders Alves, Maicon and Silva survive from the ill-fated trip to South Africa.
Most of the top football nations - Argentina, Germany, Italy, France, Uruguay and England have won the World Cup at home. Brazil can join that club at long last, and slay the ghost of the 1950 Maracanazo, when Uruguay scored two late goals to steal the cup from them in Rio.
There is also a keen desire, as there was in their World Cup winning years of 1994 and 2002, to impress after a disappointing exit four years ago, when they failed to fight back when Holland went 2-1 ahead in their quarter-final.
The prospect of meeting Spain as early as the second round is the fault of FIFA, but Brazil will not fear anyone more than they are feared in return.
With the South Americans expected to excel on familiar soil, Argentina emerge as the biggest potential adversary. They cannot meet until the semi-final, which gives Brazil plenty of time to have built up a wave of confidence.
This wave will become a tsunami if they reach the final, with the chance to exorcise the ghost of the Maracanazo balanced by the pressure on the team to perform on the highest stage.
Key player: Neymar
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown?
David Luiz could be a more useful team player across the tournament and Fred will probably end up with more goals, but rightly or wrongly the Barcelona starlet remains the barometer of Brazil's World Cup.
He first shone at Santos aged 17 in 2009 and was anointed at least three years ago at the Copa America as the star of 2014. Dunga resisted calls to take him to South Africa four years ago, despite the pleas of Pele, Romario and thousands of Brazilians.
He has kept to the script so far by making a big money move to Barcelona and winning the player of the tournament at the 2013 Confederations Cup, where he scored four in five games.
Every shimmy, step over and rabona from the young man's feet will be greeted with whoops of approval by Nike and the global 'Brasiiiill'-worshipping industry, but his importance to the team's ultimate triumph or tragedy will hinge on his link-up play, because he will surely be tightly marked, and his ability to slip those shackles and find the net.
He flourishes when given the liberty to express himself, and Brazil do more to accommodate his creative urges than the more rigid system at Barcelona.
When his quick feet avoid the lunging tackles, he can dribble, finish smartly with either boot and score from set-pieces as well but as with all flair players, he has been accused of diving and being selfish.
The psychological boost to the team and the nation of the heir to the throne billowing the net will be immense, with every goal replayed ad infinitum. Thus far Neymar has shown he can handle the pressure of being one of the world's top players at the age of 22.
His biggest weaknesses are also his aces - his fame, precocious talent and slight physique, which risk the same brutal treatment that was meted out to Pele in 1966.In truth he is not in the same league as Edson Arantes do Nascimento or Diego Maradona yet, but the press and public expect him to carry his nation to victory in the same way Pele did in 1970 and Maradona in 1986: a tall order for such a young man.
One to watch: Bernard
Bernard is unlikely to start with Fred, Hulk and Neymar fit, but the 21 year-old attacking midfielder could be just the ticket to bring on in the last half hour as an impact substitute.
The pacy 21 year old from Belo Horizonte signed for Shaktar Donetsk last year for £20 million after three successful seasons with Atletico Mineiro.
Standing only 5'5" (1m 64cm), he uses his low centre of gravity in dazzling dribbles. Right-footed but operating from the left, his energy, speed and youth kept Robinho out of the squad.
Bernard likes flicks, one-twos and bursts of pace, and looks ideal in the attacking trident of the 4-2-3-1 formation Brazil use, where he can drift and accelerate at will in the final third.
Coach: Luis Felipe Scolari
Big Phil came to the rescue in November 2012 after a string of mediocre results had the CBF terrified about the direction of the selecao with World Cup hosting imminent.
'Felipao' won the World Cup for Brazil in 2002 and took Portugal to the 2006 semi-finals and Euro 2004 final, so his tournament pedigree was never in doubt. He duly delivered as Brazil bagged the 2013 Confederations Cup in style.
His experience and fatherliness are key to keeping the young heads in the dressing-room level and the Brazilian public trusts Big Phil to guide them to the ultimate prize.But the 65 year old should not just be seen as a motivator. He has shown his tactical flexibility by evolving his favourite formation from 4-4-2 with a target man to 3-5-2 and now 4-2-3-1, or 4-3-3 as an alternative, with four ball-playing attackers whose positions are fairly interchangeable.
Winners 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002; Runners-up 1950, 1998; Semi-Finals 1938, 1974, 1978; Quarter-finals 1954, 1986, 2006, 2010; Second Round 1982, 1990; First Round 1930, 1934, 1966.
Brazil are hot favourites with good reason. Their opponents will arrive intimidated by a nation on fire for the selecao and that is worth a goal start. The 64 year-old maracanazo lingers in the folk memory however, and the hand of history hangs heavily on the young shoulders of Neymar.
Defeat is unacceptable, unthinkable and yet possible. Argentina will fancy their chances and Spain will want payback for their embarrassing collapse in the 2013 Confederations Cup Final.
But in that game Scolari's young guns did not fluff their lines. Mental strength is paramount.
Their second round clash against one of Chile, the Netherlands or Spain should tell us whether they have it in them to take the road all the way to Rio. In many ways that could be their cup final.
2014 World Cup Squad
Goalkeepers: Julio Cesar (Toronto FC, loan from QPR), Jefferson (Botafogo), Victor (Atletico Mineiro)
Defenders: Marcelo (Real Madrid), Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Maicon (AS Roma), Maxwell, Thiago Silva (both Paris St-Germain), David Luiz (Chelsea), Dante (Bayern Munich), Henrique (Napoli).
Midfielders: Paulinho (Tottenham Hotspur), Ramires, Willian, Oscar (all Chelsea), Hernanes (Inter Milan), Luiz Gustavo (Wolfsburg), Fernandinho (Manchester City)
Strikers: Bernard (Shakhtar Donetsk), Fred (Fluminense), Jo (Atletico Mineiro), Hulk (Zenit St Petersburg), Neymar (Barcelona)