Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari named a strong Brazil squad for the upcoming friendlies against Italy and Russia on March 21 and March 25, respectively. Scolari is under intense pressure to win both matches given Brazil's 2-1 loss to England at Wembley stadium on Feb. 6 in his first match in charge of the Seleção. Brazil's 2-1 loss to Roy Hodgson's team marked their first defeat by England in 23 years and raised serious doubts about whether Brazil has enough time to prepare a World Cup squad capable of winning the 2014 World Cup given the recent firing of Mano Menezes after having coached Brazil for close to two years.
In the match against England, Scolari selected and started Ronaldinho in the center of midfield but the Atlético Mineiro star was noticeably absent from Scolari's selection for Italy and Russia. Instead, the squad notably features the return of Kaka despite failing to obtain a regular spot in José Mourinho's starting lineup for Real Madrid. Highlights of the squad selection include the following:
- The return of Kaka to the attacking Brazilian midfield
- The return of left-back Marcelo after missing several national team matches due to injury
- The recall of Vasco da Gama's centre-forward Dede
- The inclusion of Hernanes after the Lazio playmaker was forced to miss the England friendly because of a concussion sustained during club play
- The omission of Ronaldinho, Luis Fabiano, Lucas Leiva and Manchester United's right-back Rafael
Kaka has shown that he partners well with Neymar and helps the Santos striker by making diagonal runs toward the left flank in ways that tend to distract defenders from Neymar and enable exciting combination play in the box. Meanwhile, the selection of Hernanes means that Scolari may have the luxury of fielding Kaka, Hernanes, Oscar and Paulinho in a midfield quartet positioned behind Neymar and Fred. Scolari's other complication concerns Lucas Moura's impressive form at Paris Saint-Germain and the question of whether Lucas and Hulk can claim places in the starting lineup.
Scolari made a tacit reference to Ronaldinho by remarking on his squad selection as follows:
"I'm giving the players the same opportunities, they'll have one or two matches to play and then I'll make a decision. I don't know if they will be back in the future or not. I'll use these four matches that I have to observe the players and then I'll decide what to do for the Confederations Cup."
Depending on how the squad gels for Italy and Russia, Ronaldinho may have a chance to play in Brazil's April friendly against Chile. The friendlies against Italy and Russia represent an opportunity for Neymar to respond to Pele's recent criticisms that the Santos star is fundamentally an ordinary player who lacks the ability to shoulder Brazil's World Cup dreams given his inexperience with European football. Pele charged Neymar with playing badly every time he plays outside of Brazil and further criticized the Copa Libertadores star for excessive attention to his hairstyle.
Italy and Russia represent two difficult friendlies for Brazil at this stage of their evolution as a team. Expect Kaka and Hernanes to step up and control the Brazilian midfield while freeing up Oscar to drop deep and wide as necessary. We should also expect Neymar to vary his play and assert his presence more on the team's flow and attacking rhythm by retreating deeper into midfield and running at defenses instead of getting stymied as a result of double and triple teaming defenders on the left flank.
Brazil Squad For Friendlies Against Italy and Russia
Julio Cesar (Queens Park Rangers), Diego Cavalieri (Fluminense).
Dani Alves (Barcelona), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Filipe Luís (Atlético Madrid), David Luiz (Chelsea), Dede (Vasco da Gama), Dante (Bayern Munich), Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain).
Paulinho (Corinthians), Ramires (Chelsea), Jean (Fluminense), Fernando (Grêmio), Luiz Gustavo (Bayern Munich), Kaka (Real Madrid), Hernanes (Lazio), Oscar (Chelsea), Lucas Moura da Silva (Paris Saint-Germain).
Neymar (Santos), Fred (Fluminense), Hulk (Zenit), Diego Costa (Atlético Madrid).