Updated: Jun 13, 2018
what ecstasy and heartbreak you bring. Best of times, worst of times, not much in between. When we last left you in 2014, your team was massive in physique, a Dunga-esque dull modernist outfit on Xanax in the hands of Big Phil Scolari, with only Neymarian flair to make the blood rush and heart flutter. And then he went down, knee-in-the-back and vertebrae cracked, and the wheels came off. Cue the nightmares of the 1950 World Cup Final loss, at home to the canny Uruguayans, seared a nation and left its footballing artists branded for life as thieves of national glory and matrimonial bliss. It all flooded back, national PTSD, 11 glamorous millionaires and millions less glamorous jilted at the altar, left sobbing like children by a ruthless German side who played burdenless attacking football.
All the while, leading up to the unholy evisceration, we fretted that something--lots of things--were awry. We watched a Seleção masquerading as Brazil, somehow best encapsulated by Fred, whom I was certain had come out of the stadium bar and slipped into the #9 jersey, reaction times dulled, a shave missed but getting away with the world's greatest hoax after a breakfast of gin and donuts. His lumbering haplessness bewildered. Opposite of Neymar was Hulk, whose bionic body came pre-fab with a thoroughly robotic processing system, with the coding set to "dribble left, head down, and shoot as hard as possible. Repeat." I never quite got the charm with him, but then Michelangelo bodies exert a magnetism on the modern coach.
The ghosts of 2014 linger, but the 2018 version appears far more creative, balanced, and I suspect looser without the weight of the Maracaña. Neymar is back from recent injury and his Julia Child dicing of Croatia last week suggests he's ready to go (see link below). The horrors of Fred have been replaced by Man City's Gabriel Jesus and/or Liverpool's Firmino, both of whom offer quality, energy, and something a bit different from each other. Firmino is a tireless worker who doesn't get enough credit for Liverpool's success, in my opinion. Coutinho and Willian are both sharpshooters who can create a goal from very little. I worry a bit that neither is really a classic playmaker--Brazil really hasn't had that player since Ronaldinho or arguably Zico, so they've won without it, but count me a tad worried there.
Fernandinho and Paulinho are coming off terrific seasons, the latter having reeled back the clock hands to shine for Barcelona. Both can get forward, win air balls, and are experts at tactical fouling. Which brings us to Casemiro, a guy you don't notice much until he's gone, and you start getting scored on. There's enough midfield pluggers to gum up just about anyone. With Marcelo and Danilo on the flanks, I believe, there's quality, and the impeccable Thiago Silva captains from the back. No one since Maldini has a player made defending look so elegant. I have not seen much of Allison, but the Roma's $90 million asking price that's in the papers are eye-catching, and anyone who's playing ahead of Ederson, who had a brilliant year at Man City, must be outstanding. Of course, there's room for controversy there over which should be the starter, but either is a huge upgrade over Julio Cesar, who struck me as more likely to be a success at polo than goalkeeping. A question for me is Miranda, who was terrific at Atletico Madrid for a while but is a bit long in the tooth. By the way, you might see Fred again, and think that he's really changed his game. It's a different Fred, more Astaire than Flintstone.
On paper a real favorite, but a few things worry: whenever they're playing really well, it's almost inevitable that they will get cocky and practically gift-wrap a scoring opportunity (remember Marcelo's 2014 whiffed bicycle kick in his own box, for no apparent reason?). Does Silva have the right partner for centerback? If things get tight, will they revert to individualistic efforts to score and rue the lack of a genuine playmaker?
Whatever the case I think we'll see a much more fun Brasil. Looking forward to it, and I know they are as well.