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This blog reflects on soccer qua football all over the world. The blog has a specific investment in attractive, attacking football and, as such, focuses on Brazil, the most emphatic historical exponent of the beautiful game.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

CBF Appoints Carlos Dunga Coach Of Brazil National Team To Succeed Luiz Felipe Scolari

The Confederation of Brazilian Football (CBF) today confirmed its selection of Carlos Dunga as coach of the Brazilian national team. Dunga succeeds Luiz Felipe Scolari, who resigned after Brazil’s disappointing performance at the 2014 World Cup. Dunga’s appointment to the position of coach of the Brazilian national team constitutes his second stint in charge of the Selecao after coaching Brazil to the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup. As a player, Dunga captained Brazil to World Cup victory as a player in 1994, and similarly captained Brazil to the 1998 World Cup final in France. In his previous tenure as Brazil coach, Dunga led Brazil to victory in the 2007 Copa America and the 2009 Confederations Cup. Nevertheless, he is largely remembered for Brazil’s 2-1 defeat to the Netherlands despite having led 1-0 at halftime thanks to a goal by Robinho.

Upon his appointment as coach, Dunga acknowledged that the landscape of global football had changed in recent years such that Brazil were no longer the best team in the world in the world as follows:

I'm not going to sell a dream. It's reality. The reality is there is a lot of work needed. So when you create high expectations for the fans, football is unpredictable. Nothing is for sure.You have to win every day, every second, every minute, and every time football is growing all over the world and more people are getting better and more competent. They are very engaged. There will be a lot of work too. We can't act like we're the best. No. We were the best, but we have to save this capability that we have. We have talent to do this, but we aren't humble enough to recognise that other national teams have worked very hard, for many years, to get where they are today and where they've got to, and we have to work very hard to be able to get back to where we once were, and to have the right to be within the best in the world.

As a player, Dunga was known for his tough tackling in midfield and inspirational leadership on the pitch. When he was first appointed coach of the national team in 2006, many purists feared that he would lead Brazil away from its tradition of attacking football toward a defensive, counterattacking, highly pragmatic approach that prized winning above all else. But after Scolari’s deplorable results with Brazil at the 2014 World Cup, illustrated most spectacularly by a 7-1 defeat to Germany in the semifinals, Dunga’s return is likely to stabilize an off kilter Brazilian national team and infuse it with fresh tactical thinking in contrast to Scolari’s reliance on player loyalty, team spirit and industriousness. As coach from 2006 to 2010, Dunga created one of the most tactically disciplined Brazilian national teams in history that was known for precision passing and one of the swiftest transitions from defense to offense in the modern game.

Dunga coached Brazil for 60 games, earning 42 wins, 12 draws and six defeats. He will be accompanied by assistant coach Andrey Lopes, with whom he worked at the Brazilian club Internacional. In the press conference where he was presented by President Jose Maria Marin and Technical Director Gilmar Rinaldi, Dunga acknowledged that he had to work on building his relationship with the press given his historical tendency to lose his temper or respond curtly to questions from journalists. Brazil fans can feel comfortable that the Selecao is now back in the hands of a young, experienced coach who knows Brazilian football at the highest level. All things considered, Dunga is the best Brazilian available to coach the Brazilian national team although only results will tell whether he has the tactical acumen to resurrect a Brazilian footballing culture that is now, officially, in ruins.

Monday, July 14, 2014

4 Quick Thoughts On The 2014 World Cup

The 2014 World Cup of football (soccer) ended in spectacular fashion with Germany securing a 1-0 extra time victory over Argentina in the final thanks to a sublime goal by substitute Mario Gotze. In the 113th minute, Gotze received a pass in the box from Andre Schurrle on the left flank and took the ball softly on his chest before volleying a rocket of a shot into the right hand corner of the Argentine goal. By most metrics, the tournament was a smashing success. The 2014 World Cup featured 171 goals from the run of play and thereby tied France 1998 for the record number of goals in the tournament’s history. Colombia’s James Rodriguez prevailed as the tournament’s most prolific goal scorer with 6 goals to win the Golden Boot, while Germany’s Thomas Muller scored 5 goals and Lionel Messi, Neymar and Robin van Persie each scored 4 goals. Muller’s achievement of 5 goals in the 2014 World Cup was all the more remarkable because he scored 5 goals in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa as well. Meanwhile, his teammate Miroslav Klose broke Ronaldo’s record for the total number of goals scored by a single player in the World Cup by bringing his tally to 16 after scoring goals against Ghana and Brazil.

Aside from finalists Germany and Argentina, the tournament also witnessed admirable performances from Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and the Netherlands. But amidst the goals and celebrations, we also saw the darker side of football as exemplified by Luis Suarez’s bite of Italy’s Chiellini and the harrowing scenes of Neymar screaming in pain as he was escorted off the field by the medical crew, only to subsequently learn that he had fractured his third spinal vertebrae after being kneed in the back and would miss the World Cup from the semifinals onwards.

The host nation, Brazil, delivered one of the most disappointing performances in their World Cup history and, as such, enabled a reconfiguration in the geopolitics of world football as noted below:

1.World champions Germany deservedly secured their fourth World Cup championship, and their first since 1990. Alongside Brazil and Spain, Germany becomes the third nation to win a World Cup outside of their own continent, and the only European nation to win the World Cup on South American soil. Germany has reached the semifinals of the World Cup a record 13 times in their history and can now stake a legitimate claim to the title of the greatest footballing nation in history. True, Brazil has won 5 World Cups in comparison to Germany’s 4, but Germany has been more consistent over the course of the last twenty years, in particular, by reaching the semifinals for the last four World Cups (2002, 2006, 2010, 2014) and the quarterfinals in 1994 and 1998.

2.Brazil no longer occupies a place amongst the list of the great footballing nations in the world today. They delivered a shameful performance not only in their 7-1 demolition by Germany, but also in their 3-0 defeat by the Netherlands and the tournament overall. Part of the problem here was that they tried to play “European style” with tough tackling and a defensive midfield as opposed to a creative one, but the irony is that their European counterparts had advanced in their tactics with demonstrations of the triangular passing and possession football for which Brazil was once known. Footballing historians will recall Brazil’s disgraceful performance at the 1990 World Cup, where they tried to emulate their European counterparts after the failed exploits of Tele Santana’s attacking teams of 1982 and 1986. European football does not suit Brazil, but another part of the problem was simply the quality of their players, with the exception of Neymar.

3.Spain can no longer be considered in the running for the best ever designation in the history of football. Winning the 2014 World Cup would surely have qualified Spain for serious inclusion at the top of the list of footballing greats amongst the likes of Brazil 1970, but their ignominious exit in the group stage marked by a 5-1 defeat to the Netherlands and a 2-0 loss to Chile means they earn the title of one of the greatest teams in the history of football, as opposed to the greatest. Nevertheless, the footballing community gives thanks to Spain for their contribution to world football and their famous brand of tiki-taka, possession football that Germany took to the next level at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

4.Lionel Messi advanced his case for the title of greatest footballer of all time by scoring four goals and leading Argentina to its first World Cup final since 1990. Nevertheless, once again, Messi failed to deliver on the international stage at the level at which he performs for Barcelona. Part of Messi’s failure to deliver for his country in the way he performs for his club has to do with the way in which Barcelona’s formation sets him up for success in a way that Argentina has never been able to do, whether under Maradona or Sabella. That said, one wonders whether Lionel Messi will ever truly make his mark as the greatest player of all time without winning a World Cup, or otherwise having a fantastic World Cup tournament marked by a plethora of goals. At the age of 26, however, the clock is ticking for Messi and time will tell if he will ever grip a World Cup by the scruff of its neck and lead Argentina to glory.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Tears Of Joy For Julio Cesar, David Luiz And Neymar As Brazil Beats Chile On Penalties

Brazil carved out a last minute victory against Chile on penalty kicks in the first match of the elimination stages of the 2014 World Cup. Brazil went ahead in the 18th minute thanks to a David Luiz flick from a Neymar corner, but Chile equalized roughly a quarter of an hour later after Vargas intercepted Hulk’s pass to Marcelo from a throw-in and allowed Chilean striker Alexis Sanchez to dispatch a low shot past the diving Brazil keeper Julio Cesar to make it 1-1. The rest of the match represented an intense, highly physical encounter between the two sides with Chile resorting to tactical fouls to disrupt Brazil’s traditional free flowing style of play. Hulk had a goal disallowed in the second half for handball and represented Brazil’s most dangerous player in the latter stages of the game. Meanwhile, Chile’s Pinilla rattled the bar in the closing minutes of extra time.

In the ensuing penalty shootout, Julio Cesar saved spot kicks by Mauricio Pinilla and Alexis Sanchez before he, David Luiz, Neymar and others burst into tears of joy after Chile's fifth penalty taker Jara hit the post. Neymar covered his face as he lay face down on the field, David Luiz burst into tears and Julio Cesar wept in an emotional interview where he reflected on his widely criticized performance in the 2010 World Cup quarterfinal against the Netherlands. After the match, coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said that Brazil had been too polite in defending as the host nation and noted that the time may have come for Brazil to return to his more aggressive style of play. Scolari further enumerated how the match sharpened the determination and conviction of the players to win the World Cup and enhanced team unity as they prepare to face Colombia on July 4 in the quarterfinals.

Chile deserve commendation for bringing pace and an attacking mindset to the match but Brazil showed courage and composure, not only in the penalty shootout but also in extra time. Brazil started the match with Fernandinho instead of Paulinho in defensive midfield, but the Manchester City midfielder failed to take control of the center of the park and was substituted for Ramires in the second half. Scolari and the Brazil coaching staff will have lots to think about ahead of Friday's quarterfinal clash against Colombia because Neymar was injured in a 4th minute challenge by Chile's Aranguiz, Luiz Gustavo will miss the quarterfinals due to a second yellow card, and David Luiz is still nursing a back injury. Meanwhile, on the tactical front, Fred continues to deliver unimpressive performances, leaving the door wide open for Scolari to juggle his lineup for the next match.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Brazil Flank Attack Crucial To World Cup Knockout Match Against Chile

Brazil will need to take advantage of their strength down the flanks to defeat Chile. Unlike Spain, which resorted to combination play in the center of the park against Chile, Brazil will need to spread the Chilean defense and then switch the point of attack to create high percentage scoring opportunities. Chile are known for their pace and high pressing up the field but can be restrained by a Brazil attack marked by width and speed led by the likes of Marcelo, Oscar, Hulk and Maicon. Meanwhile, Fernandinho will need to run midfield and play more of a defensive role to ensure Brazil win the ball and attack. Expect Maicon to start in lieu of Dani Alves and Fernandinho instead of Paulinho for the first match of the knockout stages of the 2014 World Cup in Belo Horizonte. Hulk will be absolutely crucial to Brazil in blocking the right flank.

Key players for Brazil: Marcelo, Oscar, Hulk, Dani Alves, Maicon, Fernandinho, Neymar

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Brazil Defeat Cameroon 4-1 Thanks To Goals By Neymar, Fred and Fernandinho

Brazil marched to an impressive 4-1 victory over Cameroon on Monday thanks to a Neymar brace and goals by Fred and Fernandinho on Monday. The victory over Cameroon left them top of Group A and set up a round of 16 match against Chile on Saturday. After two indifferent performances against Mexico and Croatia, an inspired Cameroon team attacked Brazil with gusto from the opening whistle but found few answers to Brazil's disciplined tactical marking and Neymar’s creativity and attacking brilliance. Brazil fans can expect a firecracker of a match against a pacy Chilean side on Saturday that has already beaten World Cup champions Spain. Chile lost 2-0 to the Netherlands in their final group match on Monday. Neymar now leads the tournament in goalscoring with four goals after three matches.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

FIFA’s Responsibility To World Cup Host Nations

The 2014 World Cup of football, or soccer as it is called in the U.S., widely regarded as one of the greatest celebrations of sport, kicked off in Sao Paulo, Brazil on June 12. Because this year’s World Cup is hosted in Brazil, the nation most commonly associated with footballing artistry and a commitment to the conjunction of sport and aesthetics, many football fans expect or at least expected this World Cup to be something special. As a football fan myself who grew up in England watching Brazil’s epic loss to Italy in the 1982 World Cup, I am still hopeful that this year’s World Cup, unlike the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, will feature goals galore, scintillating football, comebacks from the brink of defeat and treasure troves of stories of collaboration, camaraderie, adversity, triumph and tears of joy as well as sadness. For starters, the 2014 World Cup represents the convergence of some of the strongest footballing national teams ever assembled in history. This year’s World Cup boasts the likes of Argentina led by Lionel Messi, a renovated German team including Ozil, Schweinsteiger and Podolski, four time World Champions Italy, Arjen Robben and the Netherlands, the changing face of the U.S. team under Jurgen Klinsmann, strong teams from Uruguay, Belgium and Chile, and of course, mighty Brazil, led by Neymar, the former Santos and current FC Barcelona striker known for his artistry and footballing flamboyance.

But the prospects for footballing brilliance in conjunction with Brazil’s glorious beaches and lush tropical landscape have been overshadowed by political protests related to the World Cup based on the premise that the tournament detracted government funding from hospitals, schools and infrastructure. In addition, more so than at other World Cups in recent memory, allegations proliferate about FIFA’s corruption, secrecy and its disruptive influence on local communities due to the construction of stadiums and other World Cup-related infrastructures. The combination of political protests related to bus fare increases, strikes by subway workers in Sao Paolo and different permutations on the theme of FIFA’s corrupt operations collectively cast a pall over one of the world’s greatest sporting spectacles and the resulting gloom threatens to overshadow the glories of the human potentiality uniquely illustrated by professional sports on the international stage.

The World Cup need not be so enduringly sullied by protests responding to the darker effects of globalization, whether they involve the forced translocation of indigenous people to make way for lavish stadiums, tax funding that could be used for education and healthcare, or the proposition that FIFA takes bribes in the deciding where to host future World Cups, as suggested by the questionable choice of Qatar for the 2022 World Cup, for example. In other words, the staging of the World Cup need not be a zero sum game in which the host nation invariably loses at the expense of FIFA and its capitalist proclivities to maximize revenue from organizing the tournament. PayPal, for example, recently partnered with Neymar and Waves for Water, to challenge World Cup fans to donate money to the cause of clean water in Brazil in ways that suggest opportunities for FIFA to similarly contribute to the very causes that political protesters in Brazil have brought to the world’s attention over the last year, beginning with the 2013 Confederations Cup. To be fair, FIFA does have a social responsibility program that partners with organizations around the world such as Football For Hope, whose mission is to “promote public health, education and football in disadvantaged communities across Africa” by means of the establishment of at least 20 footballing centers in Africa that tackle issues such as “HIV/Aids awareness, literacy, gender equality, disability and integration” in conjunction with the needs of the local community. Similarly, FIFA’s well known commitment to ending racism and discrimination, with the recent addition of gender-based discrimination to its roster of core values, deserves praise because basically no multi-national organization has used international venues to so consistently denounce racism, in particular, in such visible terms.

Nevertheless, FIFA needs to extend its power and influence further by partnering with the governments of host nations to minimize the disruption on local communities that results from the intrusions specific to staging a World Cup. For example, FIFA could partner with host nation governments to compensate any people forcibly displaced from their homes by World Cup-related construction using policies and economic models developed by organizations such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank for decades. Similarly, FIFA should work with national and local governments to mitigate the effects of increases in rent caused by World Cup construction that threaten to render working class families homeless as a result of the World Cup. FIFA needs to drum its humanitarian mission in conjunction with the operationalization of the World Cup, in deep collaboration with host nation governments because doing so will help not only the host nation, but also the sport of football and everything inspiring that it represents. All this is not to say that FIFA can cure all ills associated with the World Cup, or that the resulting collaboration will solve issues of economic, cultural and social stratification that have deeper genealogies than the staging of a major sporting event. Regardless, the time has come for FIFA and the world to expect a deeper dialogue about how a nation and a powerful multi-national organization can work together to synergistically support each other, where possible, as opposed to the scenario we have had until now where FIFA has acted more like a bully rather than the benevolent steward which it should strive to become.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Brazil's Draw Against Mexico Leaves Them In Danger Of Not Qualifying For The Knockout Stages

Brazil played to a goalless draw against Mexico in their second match of World Cup 2014 and as a result, the host nation is in grave danger of not qualifying for the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time in the tournament's history. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has failed to field an attacking midfielder by positioning Oscar on the flanks and allowing Paulinho to play deeper in midfield with little to no effect on the game. Moreover, Brazil’s centreforward Fred has been woefully ineffective in both matches to date and, as a result, the burden of the build up to attack has been shouldered by fullbacks Marcelo and Dani Alves in contrast to a creative midfielder in an attacking position. After the match against Mexico, Scolari hinted that he may make several changes to the Brazil starting lineup. One obvious reshuffling of the squad would be to replace Paulinho with Hernanes and Fred with Chelsea’s Willian, while returning Hulk to the squad because of his ability to add width to the Brazilian attack. Meanwhile, Oscar needs to be positioned in the center of the attacking midfield if Brazil are to have any chance of progressing in the tournament.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Brazil Struggle To 3-1 Victory Over Croatia In Opening Game Of World Cup Thanks To Neymar Brace

Brazil carved out an unimpressive and controversial victory over Croatia in the opening match of the 2014 World Cup to earn themselves three points and keep intact their record of remaining unbeaten in competitive games on home soil since 1975. The match got off to a firecracker of a start when Brazil, the host nation, was shocked by an own goal in the 11th minute from Marcelo after Croatia’s spirited play resulted in a low cross from the left flank from Olic that his teammate deflected into the path of Jelavic, who flicked the ball into the path of the onrushing Marcelo. The Real Madrid defender inadvertently walked the ball into the back of his own net to give Croatia an early lead after Croatia had begun the game with lively, attacking play. The goal in Croatia’s favor stunned the crowd and the home side, but Brazil remained true to their footballing pedigree by responding with possession football and creative probing marked by impressive combination play in the middle of the park as well as down the right flank.

In the 19th minute, Oscar threaded a ball to Paulinho who had a point blank shot on goal denied by the Croatian keeper Pletikosa. Minutes later, Neymar found space on the right touchline to deliver a cross that rebounded to Oscar, whose left footed shot was expertly parried by Pletikosa. Brazil continued ramping up the pressure by attacking down the center and their persistence bore dividends in the 29th minute when Oscar’s relentless up field defensive pressure allowed Neymar to pick up the ball in the latter third of the pitch and run at the Croatian defense before dispatching a perfectly placed shot past the diving keeper’s left hand. With the score at 1-1, Brazil continued to own possession and attack the Croatian goal. Dani Alves had a free kick sail just yards over the crossbar and similarly, a spate of Brazilian corner kicks failed to deliver high percentage threats on the Croatian goal as if to confirm coach Luiz Felipe Scolari’s pre-match observation that the Brazilian team had significant work to do on set pieces.

The second half, however, represented a different match entirely with both teams coming out of the tunnel with lackadaisical aplomb. Brazil failed to attack the Croatian goal with any sustained vigor and creativity until the 71st minute, when Fred tumbled in the box and the home side were awarded a penalty by referee Yuichi Nishimura, despite replays indicating little to no contact on the Brazilian striker. Neymar stepped up to the spot kick and made it 2-1 for Brazil, sending the crowd into cheers of delight as the host nation restored the expected script for the match in the form of an impending Brazil victory. Brazil spent the greater part of the remaining 15 minutes of the game defending some furious attacks from Croatia. In the 83rd minute, Croatia had the ball in the back of the net but the referee had already blown his whistle for a foul on Brazil keeper Julio Cesar by Olic that disqualified Perisic’s goal. Brazil continued to fend off intense Croatian attacks until Oscar picked up the ball near center circle and raced toward the edge of the box before sending a toe poke of a shot into the left corner of the net to make it 3-1 and seal a Brazilian victory.

Despite sticking to the same starting XI that won the Confederations Cup, Scolari is clearly experimenting with a different formation than his usual four man defense marked by Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz and Marcelo. Instead, Luiz Gustavo occupied a deeper role and the roaming fullbacks have been largely freed of their defensive responsibilities. Meanwhile, Neymar began to take up more of a position in an attacking midfield position, in front of Paulinho, that allowed him to score the first goal, for example. Scolari’s basic strategy may be to add more width to the Brazilian attack while concurrently disrupting the scouting plans of opposing teams who are used to seeing Neymar on the wide left, Oscar in the center, Hulk on the right, and Luiz Gustavo in defensive midfield. Brazil struggled today but came away with a victory, which is often the sign of a really great team. That said, Scolari has some thinking to do in order to close some of the vulnerable spaces on the flanks that resulted, for example, in the first goal in Croatia’s favor. Regardless, the home team and favorites will be ecstatic to have earned three points as they gear up for a confrontation against Mexico on Tuesday June 17.

Monday, June 9, 2014

5 Things To Watch About The Brazilian National Team At The 2014 World Cup

As the 2014 World Cup begins the group stages of the competition, fans across the world will understandably focus their attention on Brazil, the host nation and five time World Cup champion. Unlike years past, however, this Brazil side lacks a gamut of stars that have made their mark in European competition in the vein of Romario, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho or Kaka. Although Brazil does claim bragging rights to FC Barcelona striker Neymar, the truth of the matter is that Neymar has yet to make his mark in European football in the same vein as some of his aforementioned compatriots. Because the hugely talented Neymar remains in an embryonic stage of his footballing career, at least as of yet, the strength of the Brazilian national team lies in its overall cohesion, defensive prowess and a midfield bursting with pace and creativity. Fans should watch for the following five components of the Brazilian national football team’s play as the tournament kicks off with Brazil v. Croatia on Thursday June 12 and as the tournament unfolds.

1. Neymar.

All eyes should, of course, be on Neymar, the Barcelona striker wearing Brazil’s famed number 10 jersey, the shirt number worn by Brazilian footballing greats such as Pele, Zico, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho. His dribbling skills, pace and acceleration render him very difficult to mark, particularly given his tendency to vary his play by retreating into midfield and pop up all over the pitch to lose his assigned marker. Like Pele, Neymar is more of a team player than Brazil footballing legend Ronaldo and dictates the rhythm of the game more so than most pure strikers. This is Neymar’s first World Cup on home soil in an environment where he has the confidence, trust and admiration of the coaches and trainers who brought him to the verge of footballing greatness. Expect him to shine on the world stage just as he did at the 2013 Confederations Cup, when he scored crucial goals against four time World Cup champions Italy and World Cup champions Spain.

2. The marauding fullbacks, Marcelo and Dani Alves.

Watch closely the degree to watch Marcelo and Dani Alves run forward and join the Brazilian attack. With Alves and Marcelo unleashed from their defensive responsibilities, Brazil play with six attackers in the form of the two fullbacks, Neymar, Fred, Hulk and Oscar. Alves represents one of the more experienced players in the squad and can shoot from distance as well as set pieces. Marcelo, meanwhile, should be expected to cut diagonally inside from the left flank and supplement the Brazilian attack just as he did in inspiring Real Madrid’s comeback victory in the 2014 Champions League final against Atletico Madrid. Marcelo and Alves take over from the legendary Roberto Carlos and Cafu from Brazil's World Cup 2002 team and are crucial to giving width to the Brazilian attack.

3. Oscar.

After a disappointing latter half to the season at Chelsea, Oscar has continued his poor run of form in the two warm up games against Panama and Serbia. That said, his wife just gave birth to their first child and he is also widely regarding to be recovering from the effects of a long, hard season for Chelsea in which he played extensively in their league and European competitions. At his best, he runs the midfield like a maestro in addition to applying relentless pressure in the latter third of the field to win back the ball. Like Neymar, Oscar sees the entire field of play and can craft combination plays and ways of breaking down defenses that qualifies him as one of the world’s most creative midfielders.

4. The partnership of David Luiz and Thiago Silva

Watch closely to understand the chemistry between Thiago Silva and David Luiz in central defense. Luiz is legendary for having an off day, but is otherwise one of the best central defenders in the world playing alongside the world’s greatest central defender in the form of Thiago Silva, the team captain. If Silva and Luiz gel, opponents will find it exceedingly difficult to score against Brazil, particularly since they will have to face the likes of Luiz Gustavo dropping back to help out with defense as Marcelo and Dani Alves surge forward.

5. Fred

As Brazil’s principal centreforward, Fred is known for his ruthless, predatory instincts in the box that leave him lunging for the slightest touch on the ball that will send it into the back of the net. Whereas Neymar and Oscar are concerned about artistry, Fred concerns himself with goalscoring, whether it be from a rebound, a carom, a fumble in the box or a clear cut opportunity to strike on goal. Fred seems to have recovered from a lengthy thigh injury that left him indisposed for Fluminense for several months and finally appears fit and hungry for goals. Brazil needs Fred to shine in order to complement the off-game in which Neymar struggles.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Neymar Challenges World Cup Fans To Improve Water Quality In Brazil Via Partnership With PayPal

Brazilian and Barcelona FC striker Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior has partnered with Waves for Water and PayPal to help Brazilian communities in need obtain clean water in conjunction with the kickoff of the World Cup in Brazil on June 12. Neymar’s “Neymar Jr. Project Institute” will collaborate with PayPal to enable PayPal users to make donations on behalf of any of the 32 countries that qualified to participate in the 2014 World Cup of football, hosted in Brazil. The donations made by PayPal users will be counted by the country targeted for donation in order to encourage donors to compete for the designation of the country that solicited the most contributions toward clean water in Brazil. Donations will be stewarded by Waves for Water, an international NGO, to buy water filters to purify water in each of the 12 cities in which World Cup matches will be played, in addition to surrounding locales in need. The partnership between the Neymar Jr. Project Institute, PayPal and Waves for Water recognizes continued economic inequality and poverty in Brazil despite Brazil’s explosive economic growth in recent years.

Neymar commented on PayPal’s support of Waves for Water as follows:
I am extremely proud to work with PayPal to support Waves for Water. It deeply saddens me that so many people from my home country of Brazil have limited access to clean water, a gift so many of us take for granted. Through this campaign I hope we can touch people’s lives in a meaningful way and raise enough funds to bring safe, clean water to communities in need across my beloved Brazil.
Waves for Water purchases and distributes water filters to facilitate the purification of water for communities that face challenges associated with procuring clean water such as cholera, dysentery, girardia, and contamination by sewage and urine. Filters can be installed on indoor or outdoor faucets, or containers that hold water used for public consumption. PayPal users can donate funds toward the goal of clean water in Brazil at the Competition for Good website between now and July 13 or through their PayPal mobile app between June 12 and July 13. Users of the Competition for Good website simply pick a country and the amount of the donation to allow the website to display comparative statistics on which country has donated most toward the humanitarian cause of clean water.

The collaboration between the Neymar Jr. Project Institute, PayPal and Waves for Water represents the first time in the history of the World Cup that organizations from the public and private sector have pooled resources toward the end of improving water quality within the host nation. The effort to bring clean water to Brazil as a result of the World Cup represents a notable counterweight to the protests against the World Cup last summer that originated from the position that the World Cup fostered economic inequality in Brazil. The collaboration to fund clean water underscores the possibilities for the World Cup to foster economic and social development and suggests ways in which FIFA and other global sponsors could follow the lead set by Neymar by developing analogous programs that illustrate the World Cup’s potential to serve as a win-win scenario both for FIFA, the host nation and the Brazilian people. Meanwhile, World Cup poster boy Neymar touchingly exhorted fans to contribute by noting in a blog post, "PayPal and I will announce the winning country the week of July 14th. We hope we can touch people’s lives in a meaningful way and raise enough funds to bring safe, clean water to communities in need across my beloved country – but we need your help!"

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Brazil Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari Picks World Cup Squad Marked By Quality And Depth

Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari today announced his 23 man squad for the 2014 World Cup after having revealed eight names of the squad over the last month, or nine if one were to include Neymar. As expected, Scolari remained loyal to players that he has worked with in the past and consequently, the squad featured few surprises. 16 of the 23 players selected for the 2014 World Cup featured in Brazil’s 2013 Confederations Cup squad that decisively beat Spain 3-0 in the final at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Highlights of the final 23 man selection include the following:

Inclusions

•AS Roma’s Maicon and Paris Saint-Germain’s Maxwell as backups to first choice fullbacks Dani Alves and Marcelo, respectively
•Fernandinho and Ramires in midfield despite not having participated in the 2013 Confederations Cup
•Hernanes despite a lackluster season at Inter Milan and difficulty obtaining consistent playing time
•Napoli’s Henrique as a backup central defender to complement Thiago Silva, David Luiz and Dante

Exclusions

•Former stars Ronaldinho, Kaka and Robinho
•Paris Saint-Germain’s Lucas Moura, Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho, Santos’s Leandro Damiao and Sao Paulo’s Paulo Henrique Ganso were all omitted from the squad but may well form part of Scolari’s list of 7 backup players
•The refusal to select Atletico Madrid’s Filipe Luis, despite having had a tremendous season at the club level
•The omission of defensive midfielder Lucas Leiva of Liverpool

Overall, Scolari has selected a fearsome squad with enviable quality and depth in central defense, amongst the fullbacks and in midfield. Interestingly, “Big Phil” chose to tip the balance of his midfield selection in favor of attacking midfielders, with Luiz Gustavo being the only pure holding midfielder in defensive midfield. While Paulinho, Fernandinho and Hernanes can play in deep midfield positions, they are equally accustomed to more attacking midfield positions as well, a quality that could become useful in the event that Oscar fails to recover from injury or perform well behind the triumvirate attack force of Neymar, Fred and Hulk. But Scolari’s decision to choose Willian and Bernard in midfield over Lucas Leiva, for example, suggests that he will be looking for goals from attacking midfield positions as much as from the strikers. Although many commentators, including Pele and Jairzinho, have criticized the squad for lacking brand name stars in the vein of Ronaldinho or Ronaldo from years past, Scolari has picked a young, talented squad with greater depth than Brazil’s World Cup squads of 2010 and 2006. The team is hugely talented in defense and midfield and composed of young players that are hungry for silverware, in addition to 6 players that have World Cup experience in the form of Dani Alves, Maicon, Thiago Silva, Fred, Ramires and Julio Cesar.

Brazil Squad For 2014 World Cup

Goalkeepers: Júlio César (Toronto FC), Jéfferson (Botafogo), Victor (Grêmio).
Central Defenders: David Luiz (Chelsea), Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain), Dante (Bayern Munich), Henrique (Napoli)
Fullbacks: Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Maicon (Roma), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Maxwell (Paris Saint-Germain)
Midfielders: Luiz Gustavo (Wolfsburg), Paulinho (Tottenham), Fernandinho (Manchester City), Ramires (Chelsea), Hernanes (Internazionale), Oscar (Chelsea), Willian (Chelsea), Bernard (Shakhtar Donetsk).
Strikers: Neymar (Barcelona), Hulk (Zenit St Petersburg), Jô (Atlético Mineiro), Fred (Fluminense).

Monday, April 28, 2014

A Preview Of Luiz Felipe Scolari's Likely Brazil Squad For The 2014 World Cup

Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari will announce his 23 man squad for the 2014 World Cup on May 7 after recently revealing 8 members of the squad in the form of potential captains Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Julio Cesar and Fred and the Premier League quartet of Oscar, Willian, Ramires and Paulinho. "Big Phil," who previously led Brazil to World Cup glory in 2002, has said that he has not revealed the remaining 15 players to anyone, including his wife, although he did note that they could be reasonably deciphered based on his previous history of squad selections and conversations with players. Scolari and Brazil’s technical director Carlos Alberto Parreira have taken two positions on their final roster for the 2014 World Cup. On one hand, Parreira has maintained that the squad will contain no surprises as measured by previous call-ups and squad selections for Brazil’s friendlies and competitive games. On the other hand, Scolari has staunchly asserted that his final squad selection will be influenced heavily by the performance of his players at their clubs, particularly in the final third of the season.

Given those disclaimers in mind, former World Cup Champions Ronaldinho and Kaka look set not to make the initial 23 man roster, with Ronaldinho, in particular, almost definitively exiled from the squad. Brazil’s squad for the 2013 Confederations Cup, in which Brazil lifted the trophy and beat teams such as France, Mexico, Italy and Spain en route to the title, provides a useful guide to a preliminary look at the World Cup squad.

Looking ahead to the Brazil 2014 World Cup squad, however, we should expect a handful of changes both in midfield and in defense, particularly with respect to backup selections for central defenders Thiago Silva and David Luiz, fullbacks Dani Alves and Marcelo and the midfield triumvirate of Luiz Gustavo, Paulinho and Oscar. In the left back position, Scolari will need to choose either Maxwell or Atletico Madrid’s Filipe Luis as the backup for Real Madrid’s Marcelo. Maxwell’s wealth of experience and partnership alongside Thiago Silva at Paris Saint-Germain means that he has a slight edge over Filipe Luis, but Luis boasts more recent experience defending against Lionel Messi, which could prove critical if Brazil were to face Argentina in the latter stages of the tournament. Meanwhile, AS Roma’s Maicon and Bayern Munich’s Rafinha will battle it out for the position of backup to Dani Alves, with Maicon likely to make the cut given his 2010 World Cup experience and comfort surging forward to join the attack.

In midfield, Ramires returns to the squad and is likely to be accompanied by Fernandinho, both of whom replace Porto’s Fernando and Jadson. Because Willian has already earned a place in the squad, the wild card midfield spot goes to either Lucas Leiva, Hernanes, Lucas Moura or Phillipe Coutinho. Given Scolari’s emphasis on defense, Lucas Leiva looks likely to earn a World Cup spot and provide further steel to a squad that is built around its defensive prowess and ability to win back the ball in midfield. Either Oscar, Willian or Ramires will function as the playmaker behind the attacking trio of Neymar, Fred and Hulk as follows:

Brazil Squad For World Cup 2014 (Projected)

Goalkeepers: Júlio César (Toronto FC), Diego Cavalieri (Fluminense), Jefferson (Botafogo)
Central Defenders: Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain), Réver (Atletico Mineiro), David Luiz (Chelsea), Dante (Bayern Munich)
Fullbacks: Dani Alves (Barcelona), Maicon (AS Roma), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Maxwell (Paris Saint-Germain)
Midfielders: Paulinho (Tottenham Hotspur), Lucas Leiva (Liverpool), Luiz Gustavo (Wolfsburg), Oscar (Chelsea), Ramires (Chelsea), Fernandinho (Manchester City), Bernard (Shaktar Donetsk), Willian (Chelsea)
Strikers: Fred (Fluminense), Jo (Atletico Mineiro), Hulk (Zenit), Neymar (Santos)

The starting lineup in attack will remain the same as the 2013 Confederations Cup, with Fred in a centerforward position and Neymar on the left, with Hulk on the right. All in all, Scolari has at its disposal a mouthwatering squad for Brazil that is highly balanced and bursting with young players who are eager to make their mark on the world stage. Willian can substitute for Fred if required and Bernard represents a dangerous attacking option to complement Neymar and Hulk. Brazil has the most complete squad in the world today and will be very difficult to beat on home soil, particularly if they can build on their strengths in defense and free up the creative players to express themselves in the latter third of the park.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Fred Claims Full Fitness After Months Long Thigh Injury Saga

According to Sambafoot, Fluminense striker Fred has assured Brazil fans that he is fully fit and aspires to score goals soon to clinch his place in Luiz Felipe Scolari’s squad for the 2014 World Cup. The news of Fred’s fitness comes as an unexpected twist in a months-long injury saga that had many Brazil fans doubting whether he would be fit for the World Cup at all. The prospect of Fred’s impending return to the Selecao for the March 5 friendly against South Africa comes in the wake of intensified debate about the quality of Brazil’s strikeforce with World Cup winners Rivelino (1970) and Edmilson (2002) amongst the chorus of commentators that have delivered scathing critiques about the quality of Brazil’s attack. Rivelino, for example, criticized the selection of Hulk by claiming that his inclusion in the squad was intended primarily to distract defenders and thereby create more space for midfielders such as Oscar and Paulinho to come forward. Rivelino was also quick to note the quality of Brazil’s defense as well as the corresponding mediocrity of its attack, with the exception of Neymar. Assuming Fred is fit and selected for the 2014 World Cup as planned, he will bear the weight of the number 9 jersey, which—during Scolari’s previous tenure as coach of the Brazil squad—was worn by none other than Brazil’s Ronaldo in a tournament in which he scored 8 goals, including 2 in the final against Germany in 2002.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Neymar Scores Screamer Against Rayo Vallecano

In the February 15 La Liga match between Barcelona and Rayo Vallecano, Neymar picked up the ball near centre circle, fought off one challenge, sprinted toward the box and dispatched this screamer of a shot into the top left corner of the net. This was Neymar’s first match back from injury and he was quick to show the footballing world that he will be a force to be reckoned with at the 2014 World Cup. This was Neymar’s 12th goal of the season and his 7th league goal for Barcelona. The goal capped a 6-0 demolition of Rayo Vallencano by Barcelona.




Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Scolari Closes In On 2014 World Cup Roster With Europe-based Player Selections For South Africa Friendly

Today, Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari announced the selection of 16, Europe-based players for Brazil's friendly against South Africa on March 5. The squad selection featured few surprises and suggests that Scolari and technical director Carlos Alberto Parreira are closing in on their final roster for World Cup 2014. Robinho and Kaka, for example, were omitted from the squad in the clearest indication to date that neither AC Milan player will feature in World Cup 2014. Bayern Munich right back Rafinha represented the most surprising inclusion in the squad for the South Africa friendly. Meanwhile, Manchester City’s Fernandinho was also included after several stellar performances at the club level led to rumors of his impending recall.

Highlights of the squad selection are as follows:

•Selection of the defensive triumvirate of David Luiz, Thiago Silva and Dante for the two slots in Brazil's central defensive midfield
•Continuation of the defensive midfield partnership of Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho, although we should expect to see Fernandinho at some point in the friendly against South Africa
•Oscar or Ramires will earn the playmaker role behind the attacking triumvirate of Neymar, Willian and Hulk
•Bernard and Ramires may play wide roles to substitute for Neymar and Hulk, depending on fitness and form
•Julio Cesar retains his spot in the squad despite performing in scarcely a handful of games at QPR

Notable exclusions include Lucas Leiva due to injury, and Hernanes. Scolari spoke of the decision to include Fernandinho and Rafinha as follows:
Fernandinho's been playing really well for Manchester [City], he's been attracting attention ... so here's his opportunity…Rafinha's also been playing really well for Bayern. He's had experience of playing for the national team at other levels.
In addition to the players announced today, Scolari plans to pick three or four Brazil-based players in late February or early March because many have yet to achieve full fitness given the late start specific to the Brazilian domestic football calendar. Possible domestic players that may be up for selection include Dede, Leandro Damiao, Paulo Henrique Ganso and goalkeeper Jefferson. Meanwhile, the drama about Fluminense striker Fred continues as he struggles to recover from a lingering thigh injury in time for the World Cup.

Provisional Squad For March 5, Brazi v. South Africa friendly in Soccer City, Johannesburg

Goalkeeper: Julio Cesar (QPR)

Defenders: David Luiz (Chelsea), Dante (Bayern Munich), Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain), Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Rafinha (Bayer Munich), Marcelo (Real Madrid)

Midfielders: Luiz Gustavo (Wolfsburg), Paulinho (Tottenham), Fernandinho (Manchester City), Ramires (Chelsea), Oscar (Chelsea)

Strikers: Neymar (Barcelona), Willian (Chelsea), Hulk (Zenit), Bernard (Shakhtar Donetsk)