Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari named a strong squad for upcoming friendlies against Australia and Portugal in what amounts to the clearest possible indication that "Big Phil" is closing in on his final roster for the 2014 World Cup. Scolari recalled Ramires and Maicon to the squad for the first time since taking charge of the Brazilian national team in late 2012 despite controversy over Ramires's wife's remarks that the Brazilian national team operated like a "mafia". Brazil play Australia in Brasilia on September 7 and Portugal in Boston on September 10.
Scolari elaborated on his selection of Ramires and Maicon for the Australia and Portgual friendlies as follows:
We have solved the problems we had with Ramires and he deserves to be with us. I have been watching him recently and he has been doing very well. Maicon has always been great for Brazil. He is at Roma now and I want to watch him in these two matches. I'm happy to give him the chance -- he is another player who deserves it.
Ramires will be part of Scolari's mouth-watering six options in the center of the park alongside Fernando, Luiz Gustavo, Paulinho, Hernanes and Oscar. Maicon, meanwhile, is Scolari's backup for Dani Alves and is favored over Manchester United's Rafael because of his World Cup experience and strong performances for Brazil, more generally. Maicon scored Brazil's opening goal at the 2010 World Cup with a right footed shot from near the corner kick spot against North Korea. Under Dunga, Maicon was Brazil's favored right back but his form has suffered of late because he struggled to gain playing time with Manchester City in the 2012-2013 season. The other surprise inclusion is centre-back Henrique, the 6+ foot tall defender who plays for Palmeiras. Paris Saint-Germain left back Maxwell gets another call up as well.
Key points from today's squad selection are as follows:
•The squad features most of the 2013 Confederations Cup squad in a sign that "Big Phil" is now putting the finishing touches on a squad where the core base of players has largely been selected.
•Scolari is focusing on cementing his back-line with reserves to complement his favored choice of Dani Alves, David Luiz, Thiago Silva and Marcelo. At the Confederations Cup, he had selected Rever alongside Dante as alternative central defenders. Dante started for Brazil in the recent friendly against Switzerland. Expect Dante, in particular, to get more playing time and international experience as the World Cup draws closer.
•Brazil's midfield is bursting with pace, tough tackling, dribbling ability, vision and creativity. As Oscar steps into the role previously played by Kaka, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo as Brazil's visionary playmaker and attacking midfielder, expect Scolari to make some tough choices about which two midfielders play behind him in Brazil's 4-3-3 formation.
•Scolari chose Bernard and Jo, here, as backups to Oscar and Fred respectively. We should expect Neymar, Fred and Hulk to lead the attack but should also get ready to see some matches where Neymar does not start in order to plan for the unforeseen scenario where the Barcelona youngster suffers from illness or injury.
•Brazil continue to avoid selecting Ronaldinho and Kaka in what appears to be confirmation that the sun may have set on their international careers.
Brazil will be eager to avenge their recent shock 1-0 loss to Switzerland. Meanwhile, Scolari will be carefully preparing to face Portugal, the team that he coached and the led to the European Championship final in 2004.
Brazil Squad For September 2013 Friendlies Against Australia And Portugal
Goalkeepers: Julio Cesar (QPR), Jefferson (Botafogo)
Defenders: Dani Alves (Barcelona), Maicon (Roma), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Maxwell (Paris Saint-Germain), Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain), David Luiz (Chelsea), Dante (Bayern Munich), Henrique (Palmeiras)
Midfielders: Fernando (Shakhtar Donetsk), Hernanes (Lazio), Luiz Gustavo (Wolfsburg), Paulinho (Tottenham), Ramires (Chelsea), Oscar (Chelsea), Bernard (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Strikers: Neymar (Barcelona), Lucas Moura (Paris Saint-Germain), Hulk (Zenit), Fred (Fluminense), Jo (Atletico Mineiro)