World Cup favourites: why Brazil might not win the tournament
This is not a vintage Brazil side and they will be under huge pressure to deliver at home
The mother of all parties beckons in Brazil if Luiz Felipe Scolari's Brazil side lift the World Cup at the Maracana in Rio on 13 July. And the home side are runaway favourites to do just that.
The Selecao Brasileira won the Confederations Cup test event last summer and that only whetted the public's appetite for more. In 20 games since November 2012, when Scolari returned to the helm, Brazil have only lost twice, against England in his first game in charge and then against Switzerland in August.
In Neymar they have one the world game's biggest stars, but it is at the back that Brazil have proved themselves. Since that defeat against Switzerland a defence marshalled by Thiago Silva has conceded just two goals in seven games.
This Brazil team might lack some of the samba flair of their predecessors, but they have the look of winners.
Players to watch:
Neymar is the obvious candidate, and his performances could have a direct impact on how Brazil fare at their own party. Alongside him will be one of the exotically-named strikers – Jo, Fred, Bernard and Hulk. It will be interesting to see how the Chelsea trio of Ramires, Willian and Oscar fare, and if they can be incorporated into the side. Thiago Silva will be one to watch at the back, as will David Luiz, his new Paris Saint-Germain team mate. The likes of Marcelo and Maxwell will also provide attacking intent from defence.
Why they could win it:
Simple: they are Brazil and they are playing at home. There can be no more persuasive argument than that.
But those are not the only things in their favour. Scolari guided Brazil to victory in South Korea and Japan in 2002 and knows exactly what is expected of his players. He has "installed a disciplined, reliable spine to the side in a 4-2-3-1 system", according to The Guardian. And, unusually for a Brazil team, their strength is at the back.
They even have the backing of Goldman Sachs. The City economists have crunched the data and say that the hosts have a 48.5 per cent chance of winning the tournament. Argentina are second favourites with a 14.5 per cent chance.
Perhaps Brazil's status as overwhelming favourites is understandable when you consider just how many Brazilians play at the highest level. The Times notes that more than 100 appeared in the Champions and Europa Leagues this season, while many more are heading home to play in the increasingly powerful domestic league. Scolari really is spoiled for choice.
Why they might not:
Simple: they are Brazil and they are playing at home, and the pressure on the side will be crippling. The last time the World Cup came to Brazil, in 1950, the hosts were beaten by Uruguay in the final and 64-years later the pain of that defeat still lingers.
Even the former manager Carlos Alberto Parreira, now the team's technical director, admits to feeling the strain. "This is something that has haunted us for the past 64 years. Of all the big teams, we're the only one that hasn't won at home," he said.
Not only must the players deal with the intense pressure to win, they must also find a way to deal with the unrest that the tournament is causing in their country. There is widespread anger over the cost of the World Cup and some of it has been aimed at the players, with their team bus coming under attack. Will that unsettle them ahead of big games?
On the field there are other issues to address. Brazil may be solid at the back, but with the notable exception of Neymar, they lack a certain something in attack.
"Funtional" and "unspectacular" is how the Guardian describes the team. "It is not a classic Brazilian side but they will grind out wins." They are the "least flawed" of the candidates, which suggests that if their rivals hit their straps then Brazil could be in trouble.
Getting the ball from defence to attack has also been a problem for Brazil, says Bleacher Report, which also wonders what kind of form Neymar will be in after a disappointing season for Barcelona. Statistics suggest that they are susceptible to long range shots and long balls over the top. So expect opponents to test them with some route one football.
How far can they go?
If they don't at least make the final it will be a cause for national mourning. And if they win their group then they are likely to face European teams in the quarter and semi finals. Their destiny is in their own hands.
What the bookies think:
Unsurprisingly the bookies are backing Brazil to lift the cup in Rio next month and have installed them as 3/1 favourites. Their odds on making the last four are a prohibitive 5/6.