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.
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.
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.
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.