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Huge pressure on Brazil ahead of 2014 World Cup

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Tim Vickery | 08:32 UK time, Monday, 11 June 2012

Tournaments are like time speeded up. Teams suddenly come together; others fall apart under the unusual pressures. Players have to react to different circumstances. There is the banal - the simple break in routine as a result of spending so much time away from home. And there is the special - the fact that the occasion might be the biggest a player has ever experienced in his life.

Those old enough to remember the FA Cup Final in its glory days - when the build-up was so big it was practically a tournament in itself - will recall the frequent instances of players going down with cramp. This was usually attributed to the sapping Wembley turf. At least as important was surely the emotional effect of playing a game in such a spotlight.

Poland coach Franciszek Smuda blamed this emotional aspect for his side's disappointing second-half display in the Euro 2012 opener against Greece. His observation makes sense. Tournament hosts 16 years ago, England seemed to be running on empty in the second half of their Euro 96 debut against Switzerland. In the course of the competition, Terry Venables' men showed they were capable of far better.

But even in comparison with Poland now and England in 1996, the pressure on the next World Cup hosts will be far greater. I doubt that any team in major tournament history has had to cope with the burden of expectations that Brazil will be carrying in 2014.

England have won the World Cup at home, as have France, Germany and Italy, Uruguay and Argentina. Brazil have not. They came close in 1950, only needing a draw in the last game against Uruguay. They had a hand and a half on the title when they went a goal up early in the second half, but the Uruguayans hit back to win 2-1.

At that point it mattered not a jot that Brazil had won their previous games 7-1 and 6-1. There was no longer any relevance in the statements by Brazilian dignitaries on the pitch before the game to the effect that Brazil could already consider themselves world champions - or that the players, in their capacity as 'world champions', had already been presented with lifetime free entry to the cinema. All that mattered was that they had lost.

Real Madrid's Marcelo was recalled to the national team last October. Photo: Getty

I was lucky enough to know Flavio Costa, coach of that team, and Zizinho and Jair Rosa Pinto, his magnificent inside forwards. They went to the grave unable to forget that game, resenting the fact that for all their glorious careers and many victories, that one defeat always seemed to weigh more.

True, in 1950 there was extra pressure because Brazil had yet to win a World Cup - not a problem that the 2014 generation will face. Their challenge is another - to live up to the feats of their country's five World Cup-winning teams, and to do it in front of their own people. And in 1950 there were only around 50 million of their compatriots demanding nothing less than victory. In 2014 there will be four times that number, pumped up by the ceaseless babble of a 24/7 media that did not exist the previous time the circus came to town.

Brazil's 2014 team are guaranteed a kind of immortality in their country's consciousness: events in two years' time will define which kind. It is a daunting task. And one concern must surely be the possibility that some of the players will not be emotionally strong enough to cope. There is a strain of petulance in contemporary Brazilian football that could prove highly problematic in 2014.

Last time round in South Africa, coach Dunga was increasingly looking out of his emotional depth. In the fateful quarter-final against Holland as he raged and fumed on the touchline, banging his hand in frustration against the substitutes' dug-out, midfielder Felipe Melo stamped in with a crude tackle and got himself sent off - to the surprise of absolutely no-one back home. He had been seen as a red card waiting to happen.

The current side, though, have an even more obvious candidate. Left-back Marcelo of Real Madrid is a highly talented player, but current Brazil coach Mano Menezes must surely be considering if it is worth the risk of persevering with him.

A couple of weeks ago on Brazilian TV (I am a tiny part of that 24/7 ceaseless babble), I argued that Marcelo's temperament was a cause for concern. Subsequent evidence has borne me out. I saw it as far back as the Under-17 World Cup in 2005. He was sent off twice, both times unable to deal with the fact that Brazil were losing. He does not seem to have matured enough since then. He was recalled to the national team last October for a friendly against Mexico, when Menezes was prowling the touchline trying to calm him down. He could - perhaps should - have been sent off in another friendly against the same opponents just over a week ago and had tried the referee's patience in a comfortable win over the USA a few days earlier.

On Saturday against Argentina he was much better - until Lionel Messi's magnificent late winning goal, which began with a stunning dribble round Brazil's left-back. In stoppage time, with Brazil facing defeat - a situation that always seems to bring the worst out of him - Marcelo got caught in a flare-up with Ezequiel Lavezzi and got sent off . If Marcelo is unable to cope with friendlies, then how on earth will he deal with the pressure of the real thing in 2014? The best left-back in the world is no use trudging to the changing rooms when his team need him most. To play for the next World Cup hosts, only the emotionally reliable need apply.

Comments on the piece in the space provided. Questions on South American football to vickerycolumn@hotmail.com and I'll pick out a couple for next week.

From last week's postbag:

It's interesting to see former Toon legend Nolberto Solano starts his managerial career at Universitario of Lima. Was just wondering how you rate his chances as it seems his contract only lasts until December 2012? Craig Barker

It's a club he played for when he returned to Peruvian football a few years ago. I thought that as a veteran player he had so much to offer the Peruvian game, both on and off the field, that I was disappointed when he got fed up and went back to England.

So it's good to see him back, but I fear he'll have his hands full. Universitario are a big club in a terrible financial situation - they recently went over six months without paying their players. In a new governmental measure, they have an administrator-type figure trying to guide them to a better financial future and it is hard to see how they can avoid selling a very good crop of youngsters. I'm sure there will be times when Solano wonders what he has got himself into.

I was wondering what you thought of the precocious young Chilean Junior Fernandes, who seems to be thriving since making the big move to Universidad de Chile from Palestino. What do you think his future holds? Is the prospect of seeing him in Europe inevitable? Dominic Brady

I'm not so sure about 'precocious.' He was a contemporary of Alexis Sanchez at Cobreloa, so it's taken him a while to be an overnight sensation. He's a most unlikely looking Chilean - explained by the fact that he's the son of Brazilians and, as you pointed out, he's fitted in very well to the 'la U' attack this year. Six goals in the Libertadores has put him among the tournament top scorers and showcased the depth of his talent - he's a rangy figure adept at attacking down the flanks and his height also makes him useful in the penalty area.

Before we get ahead of ourselves with Europe, let's focus on what his future certainly holds - a Libertadores semi-final against Boca Juniors. Very organised in defence, Boca seek to form a funnel, forcing opposing strikers inside towards their centre-backs. It will be fascinating to see if Fernandes can get outside them.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    This weekend's South American World Cup Qualifiers (and Argentina v Brazil friendly) really have exposed the Euros as a second rate tournament, haven't they?

    On the one side of the Atlantic we have so far seen 6 rubbish teams (Denmark, Poland, Greece, Czech Republic, Ireland and Croatia), 3 moderate ones (Portugal, Italy and Russia), 2 good ones who can't shoot straight (Germany and Holland) and one Spanish team of superb players coached by a Craig Levein-wannabe with his patented 4-6-0 system.

    Please wake me up when the Euros finish.

    Meanwhile, Argentina v Brazil was a superb game, even better when you consider that Brazil was using its experimental Olympic team of under-23s plus Marcelo and Hulk.

    But even better have been the World Cup qualifiers. Ecuador v Colombia was gripping theatre, as were Bolivia v Paraguay and Venezuela v Chile, as teams clearly are desperately trying to avoid away defeats and sneak victories where possible.

    But Uruguay v Peru today was a revelation. Uruguay are clearly at the same level as Germany, Spain or Holland, while Peru were equally clearly comparable to Russia, and were fighting to stay alive after dropping too many points in their early matches.

    The tempo was quick, the pressure was astonishing, and some of the players (Gutierrez of Peru and Ramirez, Caceres and Cavani of Uruguay) are clearly absolutely top class.

    The Euros have already shown that 16 is far too many qualifiers from Europe: it is obvious that an 8 team European Championship was of much higher quality.

    It seems obvious to me that in Brazil in 2014, only Spain, Italy, Holland, France and Germany are serious European contenders to go far.

    And it's already looking as if Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay have made more progress in preparing for 2014, while European teams give fading veterans a last hurrah in Poland and the Ukraine.

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi Tim, nice article, however what is your opinion about Brazil not using kaka, Ramires, Diego and better strikers in their recent friendlies? I think Brazil are also wrong in playing abroad, they need to play their friendlies at home and get their players used to playing home internationals. Only this way they will be able to handle the pressure of playing the WC2014 on home soil with a crowd that may become antagonistic should they not play well.
    True that Marcelo can be a liability, but their current new defenders like Uvini and Juan Jesus are slow and lack experience. At least Marcelo is talented and very attack-minded..He is one of their only stars in this new Brazil setup..

  • Comment number 3.

    Jogo Bonito, I think that Tim's headline "Huge Pressure on Hosts Brazil" articulately explains the logic of using their Under'23 team now. The Under'23 Olympians will be tested under pressure in London, and that's the only real competition Brazil faces before 2014.

    Every other South American team is becoming battle-hardened in their round-robin World Cup qualifying. Brazil's only competitive football before 2014 will be the 2012 Olympics and the 2013 Confederations Cup, at which opposing teams will rest key players to give them a summer break in the year leading up to the World Cup.

    Tim's a Spurs fan and already knew that Bruno Uvini was not good enough, but the Under'23 policy has given Menezes the chance to see that with his own eyes.

    And it's only really in defence and in goal that there are players over 23 who are clearly superior to the Under'23 players.

    Kaka has been in decline for two years: his game requires a physical level which he probably cannot reach again, and to be honest even the remains of Ronaldinho in 2014 might be more viable than what will be left of Kaka.

    Ramires is closer, but in a 4-2-3-1 can you see him displacing Lucas Moura or Hulk on the right?

    English readers may find it hard to believe, but the fortunes of the Olympic team will determine who Mano Menezes can use as the basis of his 2014 team.

    If Brazil win the Olympics - preferably by beating Spain and Uruguay - then the Olympic team will be the spine of the 2014 World Cup team , probably with just Lucas Leiva and Julio Cesar added.

    But if the Olympic team falls to Spain or Uruguay, then there will be calls for a change of direction, and probably only Neymar and Ganso and Sandro and Lucas Moura will survive.

    The English posters on this board are often fixed to the world they are familiar with, so to them a competition featuring Sean St Ledger and the Czechs, Greeks and Ukrainians is just assumed to matter more than the Olympics. I'm not sure that the Brazilians would agree.

  • Comment number 4.

    @1 I disagree with your view of Italy as just a moderately good side. To me Spain were the inferior team in yesterday's match, and I expect Italy to go further than Spain. I feel that as good as Spain are at keeping the ball and moving it around that they don't scare teams with attacking football. In South Africa two years ago Spain only scored 8 goals in their 7 games and I don't see them doing much better here.

  • Comment number 5.

    @1
    What a pretentious obnoxious view you hold. Although I suspect it's not really your opinion, your just another Vickery sycophant. "Oh please Tim, acknowledge me, for I too don't like European football".

    If you don't like European football then don't watch it, it's as simple as that. And leave the rest of us, who enjoyed the end to end chaos of Poland v Greece, the nerve of the Danes in the face of the cocky Dutch, and the indomitable spirit of the Italians.

    Just go away.

  • Comment number 6.

    @3 Yakubusdiet, thanks for that, i am aware of Mano's policies towards blooding new players, however kaka had a decent season for Real Madrid, i think Ronaldinho is a definite 'no-no' for Brazil now, he is slow and not up to international standard, both physically and mentally, Lucas Leiva is also slow and gets caught in possesion and lacks creativity, Diego (Athletico Madrid) needs to be brought in, he is creative and a real fighter and scores goals too, Brazil lacks strength in depth at the moment in the striker dept, missed too many chances, Neymar needs to stop acting like a spoilt primadonna, they also lack a proper playing vision, they were caught time and again by Argentina on the break, their defending was atrocious. A more organised Spain or Uruguay playing on the counter attack at the Olympics will pick Brazil off easily..

  • Comment number 7.

    Good article from Tim as usual,
    I have watched some of the games in the African qualifiers and the current European championship and i must say i was disappointed with the level of officiating. Having watched the Brazil v Argentina game, i was really impressed with the officiating.

    So my question to Tim is this, is the level of officiating in South America falling like the rest of the world due to the increasingly faster rate at which the game is played?

    @1,
    If you call those teams as rubbish, then i wonder how many good teams we have in the world. If what you are saying is true, then probably we need only six or seven teams for the world cup since that might be the number to satisfy your 'good' criteria.

  • Comment number 8.

    @5 A tad harsh there fella, we don't know his motivation, maybe he just has a shockingly one sided view of football. Yes Uruguay are a great team, but to count out most of Europe on purely footballing reasons is silly. If you take into account the fact that no European side has triumphed in the world cup in SA then he may just have a point.

  • Comment number 9.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 10.

    @ jogo bonito

    I think you're being overly-pessimistic about Brazil's problems in the striker department. Surely the the problem is that Menezes has to decide between a host of candidates - any one of which Roy Hodgson would give his right arm to have at his disposal. As well as the younger options of Leandro Damiao, Hulk, Wellington Nem and Pato, he also has the option of falling back on the experience of the likes of Fred, Wagner Love and Luis Fabiano, all scoring regularly at club level.

    I think he's right to go with the younger players and, like yakubus diet, I'm looking forward to seeing if they can perform under pressure in the Olympics - and, as you know, the Olympics are a very big deal for Brazil as it's the only international tournament they have yet to win.

  • Comment number 11.

    the Brazil x Argentina match result was a good one for Brazil, imho, considering this was a u-23 team... and with Thiago Silva and David Luiz injured, the whole defense was composed of inexperienced u-23s too!

    and we all know the defender is the player who most gains from experience and from being older.

    those KIDS defense, inexperienced, faced the best in the world, one of the best players ever. They conceded 4 goals in total, true, but how many SOLID defenses composed of experienced players that play together EVERY DAY FOR YEARS at club level, have not conceded goals to Messi??

    I can only imagine that with David Luiz and Thiago Silva in the defense, Brazil would have conceded goals to Messi (he is almost unstoppable when on fire), but less goals than we scored, meaning we would win the match.

  • Comment number 12.

    @Tim: what is your opinion on Fernando of Grêmio, and if you think he would be a good asset to the u-23 olympic team.

  • Comment number 13.

    Do you think Chile coach Claudio Borghi deciding to ban Premier League pair Jean Beausejour (indefinitely?!) and Gonzalo Jara (TEN matches?!) will have a detrimental effect on their World Cup qualifying campaign?

  • Comment number 14.

    @BigHeavyBallbag, I think you've missed my point about the Euros completely.

    The South American World Cup qualifiers have really lifted the standard of Ecuador, Venezuela and funnily enough Uruguay since going round-robin, because you have nine or ten teams of whom seven are good and the other plays at an altitude of 10,000 feet. It goes back to Tim's title this week: the competition elevates the standard of everyone.

    If you think back to Euro'84 (France, Spain, Denmark) and Euro'88 (Holland, Germany, Russia, Italy) the standard and pressure used to be superb with just two groups of 4. In fact, Holland couldn't even qualify in 1984, and neither could England for that matter.

    But nowadays some seriously rubbish teams are getting in through the play-offs (Czech Republic, Ireland, Croatia) and some even worse ones are qualifying directly (Greece).

    And it's going to get worse: the increase to 24 teams from Euro'2016 means that 4 out of 6 teams coming third in their group will advance to the Round of Sixteen.

    Tim's original premise is a highly valid one: tough competition can lift promising players and teams into becoming outstanding ones.

    It's working in South America. And the soft nature of European qualifying in both the Euros and the World Cup is lowering the standard.

  • Comment number 15.

    Well yakubusdiet,The South American football at the weekend was exciting but a lot of that is due to the fact that many of the South American teams cannot defend.

    I totally disagree with you regarding the Euros as I think it has been a terrific start to the tournament, far removed from the cagey start a lot of big finals have.

  • Comment number 16.

    They`re not even showing all of the Euro games live in Argentina, maybe due to lack of money? Will watch England - France streaming on t´ net. Uruguay - Peru yesterday was a cracking game!

  • Comment number 17.

    @14. Yakubusdiet, I think most European national teams are way above the level of the likes of the second tier South American countries Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela and Paraguay.

    This is, you know, proved by performances at World Cups rather than vague comparisons between the European Championships (after a handful of games, and I don't agree with your analysis) and the South American World Cup qualifying.

    Argentina and Brazil are really the only consistent South American performers. Uruguay's performance at World Cup 2010 was their best for decades, and they have a strong generation at the moment.

  • Comment number 18.

    Tim,

    Given that you have doubts over Marcelo, who do you think are the best candidates to replace him at left back?

    Do you think Alex Sandro or Dodô will be ready to come in by 2014?

  • Comment number 19.

    @14
    No I didn't miss your point, I just chose to ignore it. People like you bore me to death.

    And while we're on the subject, you seem to have missed my point. That you are one of the hundreds of sickening Tim Vickery sycophants who are so desperate for him to love you you just follow his anti-european drivel religiously. Summed up perfectly by the number of times you mention him in your response to me.

  • Comment number 20.

    Good article from Tim as usual, I have watched some of the games in the African qualifiers and the current European championship and i must say i was disappointed with the level of officiating.
    Massive pressure on Brazil at home but they have some good young and experienced players and will do well in 2014
    jual jaket kulit

  • Comment number 21.

    Hey guys, let's not turn this into a slanging match, Tim will be grinning ear from ear..
    lets get a few things clear, most Euro teams are well organised and set up not to lose matches and then go on from there..Apart from maybe Spain and Holland and Germany and maybe France who have enough attacking talent to take the initiative. The other south American teams like Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Colombia, and Venezuela cannot live with the more organised Euro teams. The Euro teams are better organised and more tactically aware and professional and will generally beat most SA teams apart from Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil..So while the Euro 2012 has been a bit boring, compared to the SA qualifiers, the Euro teams are more likely to come out on top mainly due to their better fitness, tactical awareness and training.

  • Comment number 22.

    @Bigheavyballbag suggests that people like me are "Tim Vickery sycophants" who "don't like European football" and should "just go away".

    An interesting concept, perhaps.......except this is Tim Vickery's South American football blog. Which one of us is in the wrong place?

    Seriously, though, my argument is simply that there are too many poor teams at the Euros, and that it should be reduced back down to 8 teams, rather than bloated further to 24.

    The World Cup has been held six times in the Americas, and Brazil, Uruguay or Argentina has won all six times. And I simply don't believe that the competitive cycle currently undertaken by the European countries is preparing them to break that cycle.

    By the way, I owe the Peruvian Guerrero an apology for calling him Gutierrez! And he is a great example: the only European teams he wouldn't walk straight into are probably Germany and Holland. I would argue that Sebastian Coates learned more from his afternoons against him yesterday and at the Copa America than he did in a year at Anfield.

  • Comment number 23.

    @15 fergies-army
    "Well yakubusdiet,The South American football at the weekend was exciting but a lot of that is due to the fact that many of the South American teams cannot defend."


    Yeah, right pal. This is an ages old myth, that easily falls apart when you analize how many goals Brazil conceded in World Cups, comparing to european teams.

  • Comment number 24.

    Tim, can you shed some light/truth on this statement that south american teams cannot defend?

  • Comment number 25.

    AcesHigh wrote:
    @15 fergies-army
    "Well yakubusdiet,The South American football at the weekend was exciting but a lot of that is due to the fact that many of the South American teams cannot defend."


    Yeah, right pal. This is an ages old myth, that easily falls apart when you analize how many goals Brazil conceded in World Cups, comparing to european teams.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    I think the general point fergies-army was making was in regard to the weaker South American teams, rather than the likes of Brazil, Argentina or Uruguay.

  • Comment number 26.

    Which South American teams can't defend?

    In 2010, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay were 4 of the 8 World Cup Quarter Finalists, and all five South American teams got out of their groups, compared with 7 out of 13 European qualifiers. And that was a cold weather World Cup in Europe's time zone.

    I'm not decrying European club football, I'm simply saying that World Cup and European Championship qualifying in Europe is pretty soft and allows too many poor and average teams to qualify.

    Consider Ireland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Croatia, Ukraine, Poland, Greece and Sweden. They constitute half the teams at Euro'2012, and they aren't just inferior to several South American teams, they are probably also below the level of USA, Mexico, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Egypt.

    Even Italy, who I earlier described as "average" are essentially the team which finished below New Zealand, Paraguay and Slovakia in its group at the last World Cup, augmented by the temporarily-suspect Cassano and Balotelli, both of whom were available in 2010 but weren't trusted by Lippi.

  • Comment number 27.

    I love South American football and its national teams as much as the next South America-o-phile, but let's not forget that Uruguay faced only one European team before they lost the semi final in South Africa. And they drew against a team that was deep in one of the biggest team implosions in World Cup history. The knockout rounds were a joke, England would have been rightly pleased to end up on that side of the draw if Green had done his draw.

    However, that Uruguay team has the essential ingredients for a non European team to succeed. A deadly front two. Not just one, but a partnership (harks back to a previous Tim blog). And has come on further since the World cup semi.

    Chile look a bit lightweight away from home, so even if they qualify I think they will ship goals against a well organised european team. They were lucky that the swiss parked the bus in a game they had to win, while Chile were losing to Spain. 8 goals conceded away to Argentina and Uruguay already is shocking.

    And my Colombia (I can go for the cafeteros and the vinotinto through my wife) have not built upon a good start. I fear they won't make it to Brazil.

    Going back to the subject, I too fear for Brazil. Not only the pressure of the fans and the media, but the fact that the Brazilian league has suddenly grown in status and money that might make the brazilians staying at home (Neymar) get too confident in a league that is tactically and professionally below par. Neymar should go now to Europe, take a year to acclimatise and then make a big push for the World Cup in the 13/14 season. Ditto Ganso, Lucas Moura, all these up and coming names.

    Argentina or Uruguay to inflict another maracanazo on the seleccao.

  • Comment number 28.

    No need for things to get too adversarial - it doesn't have to be a Europe v South America slanging match - we can appreciate both - and international football from other continents as well.

    Euros too cautious for some - but then the Copa America was cautious last year - one big reason to thank our lucky stars for Chile, who post-Bielsa still want to take the initiative. They've played a game more than nearest rivals Argentina and Uruguay, but it's still a top achievement to be number one in the table, especially as only two of their 6 games have been at home. They should be delighted with their work in these last 2 rounds - wins away to Bolivia and Venezuela without conceding.

  • Comment number 29.

    I agree with # 28. It's not a zero-sum UEFA vs CONMEBOL thing. This past weekend was lots of fun all over. Plus, I think Brazil is in trouble: they won't win the WC in 2014.

  • Comment number 30.

    @RoverOnTour:

    Keeping the big names in Brazil is good for the league, but bad for the national team (for they will lack the international experience).

    Letting them go will be good for Brazil but bad for the national league.

    Between the two options, I will go for the national league, and to hell with the World Cup.

  • Comment number 31.

    yak

    What is your problem? You seem to have set the same (to quote Tim) adversarial tone to the blog with the very first post as you did last week. It is pretty much on a take it or leave it basis after all. If you don't like it, don't watch it. For me, the ACN is not my bag, so I chose to watch, maybe the semis and the final. I watched the Copa in full last year for the first time and enjoyed it in the main, but like the Euros, some drab games in the early rounds. And lest we forget, one of teams contesting the final reached it without actually winning a game in normal time.

  • Comment number 32.

    Personally think the Euros has been good so far, maybe the defending is poor, but there isn't many defences in South America much better at the moment.

    I don't think any of the European teams have much to fear in the WC2014 other than Messi. Maybe that is naivity but since Brazil have taken this 'you must play in your home country' attitude they have look severely weakened.

    And Yakubu, if Europe only had five teams in the World Cup then I would say they would all get through their groups. Chile and Paraguay had easy groups in 2010 as well. If the Euros went back to 8 teams the tournament would be over before it started, and smaller teams that you mentioned would never get to the tournament. If I was an Irish, Swedish or any 'smaller nation' I would be crazy for just being their. Then a team like Denmark beats on of the favourites. It is not done like that in South America simply because there isn't enough countries to allow that size of tournament. Saying this though for Euro 2016 going to 24 teams is too extreme.

  • Comment number 33.

    The pressure on Brazil in 2014 is going to be immense and that is why Mano Menezes (or whomever replaces him because I doubt he will last if Brazil do not do well in the Olympics) will need some experienced hands on the team. This is where players like Dani Alves, Ramires and maybe Luis Fabiano or Fred will be useful as Brazil prepares for 2014 to add to this sub23 Olympic team (plus the overaged Thiago Silva, Hulk & Marcelo) we have seen these past few weeks.

    For Argentina these past two weeks saw 4 goals scored in each match with Messi being well, Messi. Argentina look great going forward but still a little vulnerable on defense. I still want to see more of Fernandez-Garay as the central defensive partnership but it is ironic that Campagnaro starts ahead of Fernandez at Napoli but the reverse is true with Argentina. I also maintain hope that at some point Catania's Matias Silvestre will be given a chance in the middle of defense.

    The fullbacks Zabaleta and Clemente Rodriguez also had their up and down moments this past week. He is not yet ready but keep an eye out for 19 year old Velez right back Gino Peruzzi, he stuck to Neymar like fly paper in the Libertadores quarterfinals. I need to see more of him on the ball but as a man marker he is superb. And his teammate Emiliano Papa should get another opportunity soon at left back he is less mistake prone than Clemente Rodriguez.

    Overall, however, Argentina fans can be happy because Messi is now reproducing his Barcelona magic with the national team. I only wish we had seen this last year at the Copa America.

    A great week for Chile with 2 away wins as they now lead the qualifiers, albeit with one more game played than most of their principal rivals. The core group of players from inform Universidad de Chile have lifted their team I think. Marcelo Diaz and Charles Aranguiz really liven up their midfield.

    Ecuador relying on their typical recipe of winning at home in altitude but their wingers, Antonio Valencia and Jefferson Montero can trouble any defense.

    Is Paraguay's Francisco "Chiqui" Arce in line to become the next national team coach fired in South America?

    Soccer Futbol Forum:
    http://z8.invisionfree.com/Soccer_Futbol_Forum/index.php?

  • Comment number 34.

    33 - Arce has indeed been sacked as Paraguay coach.

    I always thought he was on to a loser - the Copa America last year was supposed to mark the start of a new cycle - but for Paraguay it was very much the end of a previous one, as coach Gerardo Martino recognised when he stepped down straight afterwards.

    Arce made the mistake of an inexperienced coach -tried to change too much too soon.

  • Comment number 35.

    18 - this is part of the problem - there is no ready made left back alternative - though I think Andre Santos was a bit harshly treated when he was dropped back in August.

    I like Alex Sandro a lot - liked him from the first time I saw him with Santos a couple of years ago - though he is a bit on the big side for the position and can struggle defensively because of it. I haven't really followed his season with Porto, but I don't think he's played much. I would give him his chance in the Olympics - leave Marcelo out to let him dwell on the need to grow up.

  • Comment number 36.

    the future is bright for Brazil because the future is Oscar... who was fantastic in those last few freindlies...

    the jigsaw is coming together nicely... this lot just need more experience.. shame the World Cup isnt in 2015!!!

    but remember the name folks... OSCAR!!!

  • Comment number 37.

    @33 "...Overall, however, Argentina fans can be happy because Messi is now reproducing his Barcelona magic with the national team. I only wish we had seen this last year at the Copa America."

    hmmm...I wouldn't count my chickens yet. Ecuador seemed overawed by the ocassion and the other game was a friendly...sure, it does wonders for Argentina's self confidence but let us wait and see if Messi raises to the ocassion in tougher matches when the team looks at him for answers. Let's hope that's finally the case.

    Chile are doing amazingly well considering they have about 9 players banned from the team for disciplinary issues. It weren't their best team performances ever but they got the job done in Bolivia and Venezuela. If they manage to get the suspended players back in the team, especially the likes of Valdivia, Beausejour, Medel and Vargas, and the coach manages to get some sort of control over the team, they'll be a force to be reckoned with.

    Paraguay's golden generation seems well and truly over and as a result they're struggling in these qualifiers.

    Colombia, despite their loss should be up there, they have a good coach who should guide them to the world cup.

  • Comment number 38.

    @28 "one big reason to thank our lucky stars for Chile, who post-Bielsa still want to take the initiative. They've played a game more than nearest rivals Argentina and Uruguay, but it's still a top achievement to be number one in the table"...

    Hi Tim, yes, this is a great achievement, especially considering they have about 9 players out due to disciplinary issues, situation which has not been handled well at all by the Chilean FA nor the coach.

    Obviously, this is a deeper problem that needs addressing from youth level up and it shows the lack of guidance players have when faced with sudden fame and fortune.

    As far as the immediate problem is concerned, perhaps Borghi should "lock up" the players for the week or so of each qualifying round and once the games are over, release them to do whatever they like. Then he'd be able to count with all the players and not have to worry about disciplinary issues before games.

    A Chile team with Valdivia, Sanchez, Vargas, etc would be a terrific team under a strong guide.

  • Comment number 39.

    @29 "I think Brazil is in trouble: they won't win the WC in 2014"

    I agree, as usual the Brazilian hype machine is going into overdrive but this time there is no substance behind the claims (eg. Neymar is no Ronaldo/Romario) and more importantly, they will have no competitive games until they get to the WC itself. They can win all the Olympics they want but that's not a tournament other countries take too seriously. Then again, I do believe Brazil have never won the Olympics in football so maybe they're just trying to correct that situation.

    But as far as the WC is concerned, that's a totally different beast and they'll struggle.

  • Comment number 40.

    I got to attend the Ecuador vs Colombia match on Sunday.

    Ecuador deserved their win but nearly through it away near the end of the match with some crazy defending and a needless red card for Noboa.

    Paredes and Valencia linked well on the right hand side and the defence/midfield were solid if not impressive.

    Christian "Chucho" Benitez scored the winner then hit the cross bar with a fierce shot but to be honest he was fairly dreadful up until then.

    Ecuador will have to play much better if they are to pick up points away from Quito and qualify for Brazil

    Colombia were very disappointing and Pavon and Falcoa anonymous throughout. I am not sure if the altitude and heat had an effect but the Colombians looked jaded and leggy. They must also raise their game if they are to claw their way back into contention.

    There were at least 8,000 Colombians in the stadium which added so much to the atmosphere.

    As a match day experience Sunday was entertaining on so many levels. The authorities or touts had sold far more tickets than seats for the stadium. The result was a hectic and at times unsafe stramash of both sets of the supporters.

    In their wisdom the government/police had decided to prohibit the sale of alcohol in the stadium. This proved to be totally unworkable and set in motion a frenetic pre-match hysteria of jostling, pushing and some of the choicest Spanish curses and swears I have heard. In the end in the face of open disregard and disrespect the Police just gave up.

    The heat was at times unbearable and I had to scramble to the shade a few times before the game (you had to arrive 4 hours early to claim a seat/spot in a German sunlounger style). For long spells I had to cower below my track-suit top despite the use of a hat, tartan umbrella and gallons of sunscreen.

    The people around me were welcoming,friendly and eager to strike up conversation. All in all an excellent day..You can see a couple of photos below and i will put up a match report etc when i recover from the sunstroke and crippling sunburn. I KID YE NOT.

    http://footballintheclouds.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/ecuador-vs-columbia-3/

  • Comment number 41.

    39 Exactly. Not being able to play competitive games for a couple of years can't be good for any team, especially for this Brazil team. They're just not doing well at all.

  • Comment number 42.

    By all means the 2014 WC is going to come at a wrong time for this group of brazilian players..wat would brasil do to have the world cup at home when they had the generation of Romario, ronaldo, Rivaldo, roberto Carlos etc etc. This current generation is not worthy to represent the famous yellow shirts in "their" home world cup. Saying that though, the Europeans havnt exactly set world football on fire at the euros so far..its been so defensive and dull..nothing new there i guess

  • Comment number 43.

    Another great article Tim.

    Having been in attendence at the Argentina Brazil Friendly, it seems that "pulga" Messi has won the hearts of most of his critics in Argentina. Do you think this is the case? with Messi hitting brilliant form in his last few appearances for the Albiceleste are the Argentine People finally behind Messi as leader of la seleccion?

    After his brilliant Goal saturday to cap the Argentine comeback, the entire stadium (not dressed in Yellow and Green) roared in a long deafenting chant of "MMMEEEESSSIIIIIIII MMMMEEESSSIIII"
    Another great thing from the game in New Jersey was the unity between the Argentine and Brazilian Fans, i Myself (Having Argentine Roots) traveled with my friends who are straight outta Brazil and we had a great time partying in the parking lot, kicking the ball around with Brazilians, Argentines and enthusiastic supporters of both countries from many different cultures. Even the dust up between Lavezzi and Marcello didnt spark any fury between the fans.

  • Comment number 44.

    Speaking of the pressure by the brazilian press: Tim, how can you manage to even sit next to "people" such as Toninho Nascimento? I was watching him talk to you about the South American eliminatories and the way he opened his mouth to mention Ecuador and Colombia was disgusting to say the least. I am impressed that you managed to smile next to that guy: he represents the typical horrendous arrogance of the brazilian press, always tryingto diminish their brothers from the same continent, and of course sucking up to the Eurocup to the highest possible level. I wonder if around South America you see the same level of disgusting eurofetishism we see here in Brazil.

  • Comment number 45.

    @Frank: how would brazilian fans even stand behind Marcelo´s actions, when he is seen as an unstable player, albeit brilliant with the ball? He will be a really hard choise... because he IS an awesome lateral, and at the same time a threat if he loses his head (a big possibility) at the World Cup.

    its not the same kind of choice we had with Felipe Melo, which hardly anyone in Brazil thought of as a great player... he was average AND a threat of red cards...

  • Comment number 46.

    Tim, maybe you could comment about Oscar (and what you think of him in the Seleção) and of Fernando from Grêmio, who was left out of the Seleção but gets high praise by many coaches and journalists.

  • Comment number 47.

    @aces.
    honestly in real time at the field nobody really knew what had happened between Marcello and Lavezzi, it actually looked like Lavezzi was out of control, once i got home and you tubed it things became clearer, although everyone is aware of how Marcello can be

  • Comment number 48.

    I've followed Oscar for a few years now - cracking little player who never fails to disappoint! Will be a bigger star than Neymar and co... maybe 2014 will be a little early for him to make a real impact but who knows...

  • Comment number 49.

    44 - the fun of doing the programme with Toninho is that we disagree on everything! He can never believe that I spend so much time watching games from elsewhere on the continent - even Argentina. He is the embodiment of Brazilian prejudice towards the rest of the continent - far more interesting to do a Brazilian TV programme with someone ike that than with someone who agrees with you.

    Oscar - a wonderful little talent, bright, dynamic and flowering. I'd heard stuff about him for a while, and then Inter picked him up from Sao paulo (controversially as it turned out), and I remember the then-Inter director, Fernando Carvalho - a terrific spotter of a player - telling me how good he was.
    This came as a surprise, because I'd just seen him in a game where Inter brought him off the bench in the secod half, and he was so awful they had to take him off. Never mind, said Carvalho. he had a bad day, but he's a special talent. He was right.

  • Comment number 50.

    ok, greetings from rwanda pipo... brazil cant win the world cup in 2014, they lost it!!

  • Comment number 51.

    The pressure is high indeed, and a misstep at the Olympics will certainly mean Mano Menezes will be out. However, I have the feeling that Brazil will be winning its sixth WC mainly because (i) a more consistent team seems to be emerging from the recent friendlies, (ii) some of the new individual values will be much more mature in two years, (iii) we'll be playing home and (iv) refereeing has historically been nice to Brazil.

    For Tim and those who can read portuguese, an interesting research has been conduced by Pluri consultants on who was the most valuable player at 20 years of age. Definitely worth checking, specially the technical assessment of each: http://www.pluriconsultoria.com.br/uploads/relatorios/Pele%20x%20Maradona%20x%20Messi%20x%20Neymar%20-%2020%20anos.pdf

  • Comment number 52.

    i've seen Oscar a few times in the flesh and many more times on TV. He is still developing but has never failed to disapoint. In the recent friendlies I was surprised by his workrate for an attacking midfielder he was everyone... refreshing compared to the likes of Ronaldinho who never track back...

  • Comment number 53.

    A very informative article. It will be interesting to see if these talented young players that are emerging for Brazil will be ready for the World Cup in 2014. I think that the key will be blending younger players with at least two or three who have prior experience of a World Cup.

    Brazil will always be contenders in a World Cup but I wonder if they have the mental toughness to prevail in the really important games. I look forward to finding out in almost exactly two years time.

  • Comment number 54.

    @ 1 yakubusdiet

    I'm not sure what matches at Euro 2012 you have been watching (maybe you haven't watched any judging by your comments) but apart from a couple of average games the standard has been really high. There has not been a 0-0 draw yet and in only two matches has the margin of victory been more than one goal.

  • Comment number 55.

    Haha, I see you treat Toninho as a walking piece of folklore. You do well Tim, though for me he doesn't even deserve that--I admire your ability to maintain your composure as he mocked the suberb Tigres-Newell's game where Chino Luna scored a hattrick. I think he mocks Argentina football because he's butthurt his carioca clubs are always destroyed by South American giants like Boca and Olímpia--Santiago Silva's heroic goal in Engenhão must have tortured his dreams for weeks.

 

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