Sunday 8 June 2014

Written by Timothy Hock-An Balaguru, Class of 2014, Junior 2 Cempaka

Every four summers, sports fans around the world are treated to a spectacle unlike any other. As exciting and dramatic as the domestic leagues and the Champions League are, the pinnacle of professional football will always be the World Cup. The best players in the world, representing their countries in a bid to secure the biggest prize in all of sports, on the grandest stage of all. What more could you wish for?

This year, the World Cup will be hosted by a country where football is larger than life for many of its citizens. Five-time champions Brazil will open proceedings at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo, which will be their first World Cup match on home soil in 64 years. The weight of expectation on their shoulders has never been greater, especially when you consider 12 long years have passed since Brazil were last crowned champions of the world. Finishing anywhere but first will be considered a failure. Maybe this pressure can motivate Luiz Felipe Scolari’s squad of 23 into achieving their sixth World Cup victory. 

One thing is for certain — no one is going to hand them the title. As usual, there is a strong European contingent at the World Cup, with reigning champions Spain eager to become the first team in over 50 years to defend the prestigious title. Former champions Argentina and France will again look to give the favourites a run for their money, and it is impossible to rule out three-time champions Germany who have a squad on par with any team on this planet. Of course, these are just a few of the many teams which have realistic chances of winning the title. I will not go over all of them, only the eight teams who I feel have the greatest chance of lifting the coveted FIFA World Cup Trophy at the Estádio do Maracanã this 13 July.

When I look at the Brazil squad, I see a team which is well-rounded and immensely talented. There are no gaping inconsistencies and the team is littered with some of the game’s most naturally gifted individuals. They emerged victorious in last year’s Confederations Cup, winning each of their five matches. They capped off an outstanding tournament with a stunning 3-0 victory over Spain in the final, which to many, signalled the end of an era of Spanish dominance.

At the centre of defence lies the ever-present defensive rock, Thiago Silva. Having recently been named in FIFA’s World XI, the Brazil captain is arguably the best defender in the world, bar none. He lines up next to his new Paris Saint-Germain teammate David Luiz, who himself is no slouch, having just been made the world’s most expensive defender following PSG’s acquisition of him for a whopping £50 million. Luiz may be guilty of the occasional mistake, but these blips are becoming fewer and further between. He possesses a range of passing that wouldn’t be out of place in the centre of midfield, a position which he often played for his former club, Chelsea. This skill will allow Brazil to play out from the back, which may be useful in starting attacks. Together, the pair can hold their own against any attack in the world and may be the key to a successful campaign for Brazil.

When you think of Brazil, you tend to focus on players like Neymar, Hulk, Oscar, and many of the other attacking stars that the are at Scolari’s disposal. However, for them to thrive, they need to have the assurance that they have a stout and impenetrable defensive unit behind them to ensure that the team will not be left exposed to strong counterattacking sides. The onus is therefore on the two Brazilian centre backs to keep a good shape and remain solid under pressure, thus allowing their attacking colleagues to play the fast, free-flowing football which Brazil is recognized for. 

If there are any weaknesses in this team, it would have to be in the two defensive midfield slots which are a part of Scolari’s 4-2-3-1 formation. With players like Paulinho, Ramires, Hernanes and Fernandinho filling these positions, it is fair to say that Brazil may be a touch vulnerable in the engine room. While all these players can put in solid shifts, they do not possess the brilliance of other defensive, or deep-lying midfielders such as Andrea Pirlo, Xabi Alonso, Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal, to name a few. 

With this potential weakness in the Brazilian midfield, it becomes even more important for the defense to remain watertight, because the it will definitely be put under pressure if the deep-lying midfielders struggle. This is what David Luiz and Thiago Silva, and to a lesser extent, the fullbacks Marcelo and Dani Alves, have to be wary of. If the team plays anywhere close to how they did in the Confederations Cup, spurred on by the legion of patriotic Brazilians who are sure to fill each stadium to its full capacity when the Brazilian team is in action, I see every reason to concur with the general consensus that Brazil are the pre-tournament favourites, provided they can cope with the pressure. 

Key Players: Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Neymar.

Previews of the teams from Spain, Germany, England, Argentina, France, Belgium and the Netherlands will be published on the Lumen Studet. Next: Spain.
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