Unfortunately for the rest of the world, Brazil is back! It’s not that they ever left the scene but that 2014 7-1 reckoning versus Germany on home soil was a genuine knockout punch. I watched that match on a rooftop in Rio at a barbecue of dancing Brazilians. Those people and the city afterwards told a story of a football feeling never felt in that country before: embarrassment.
But that was then and now they don’t have David Luiz wearing an armband, or anything for that matter as he didn’t make the team. This 23 is frightening. For the first time in decades, they simply do not have a weakness.
The days of joking about Brazilian goalkeepers are over. Taffarel in the 90s was good enough. Dida in the 2000s a massive improvement. But now the country boasts not one but two world class talents between the sticks. Roma’s Alisson and Manchester City’s Ederson are both top quality keepers who keep getting better. Alisson is on everybody’s shopping list and Ederson a Premier League champion in his debut season. They will be a reassuring presence behind the defence.
The biggest difference in this Brazilian side compared to 2014 is the back line. Not necessarily the personnel but the experience and maturity that they’ve acquired in the last four years. Marcelo is the best left back in the world. He oozes confidence and has a silky touch going forward. Marquinhos is older (he just turned 24) and ready to be the rock in the middle as he is in Paris. Exactly what Brazil were lacking the last go round. His PSG teammate and Brazil captain Thiago Silva will be alongside him. The entire defence just doesn’t have that naivety we sensed in 2014.
Going forward, Brazil have luxurious options. Casemiro, Fernandinho and Paulinho are all in incredible form, all had spectacular seasons and all anchor the midfield of their sides. Casemiro won his third straight Champions League title in a row with Real Madrid. He is simply one of the best in the middle. Fernandinho won a Premier League title in the most dominant of fashion with Manchester City. And Paulinho resurrected his career with 49 appearances for Barcelona en route to a Spanish league and cup double. Unbelievably, one or two of them will be on the bench.
Pushing further forward in attack, Brazil just have almost too many options. Willian, Philippe Coutinho and Douglas Costa can terrorize full backs out wide or pick apart the center with darting runs on the ball. Manchester United’s newest signing Fred is an engine in the middle linking the back with the attack. And of course up front you have the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Roberto Firmino and Neymar. Jesus, as I’ve ranted about numerous times over the course of the season, is a treasure who instinctively just knows where the goal is. He is a continual threat on the pitch. Firmino had a breakout season for Liverpool on their way to the Champions League final and along with Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah forms one of the most feared attacking three in the world. And Neymar is Neymar. The best footballer on the planet not named Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi. He is sublime. His technique and work rate are second to none. His creativity and vision are astounding. He is a monster. If he’s fully fit I do not see anyone having a better tournament.
The Cup is there for Brazil. They will be one of the major favorites along with Germany, France, Spain and Argentina. The usual pressure will be on them to come home triumphant and anything less than the semi finals would surely be a failure. I have them winning it, based solely on their talent and absurd depth. But teams can beat them if they relentlessly attack. You can’t sit back against Brazil as they will mercilessly smash through the proverbial parked bus. You need to fight fire with fire and get after the defenders. Silva and Miranda are both 33 so are susceptible to a bit of pace. Marcelo at times doesn’t track back after one of his famous forward parades. They can be had. I’m not saying it’s probable, but certainly doable.
Now we will just wait and see. A rejuvenated Brazil is on their way to Russia and they are hungry for anything to wash away those cold memories of four years ago. And I wouldn’t bet against them.