Friday, 23 April 2010

Struggling Seleção Stars Pose World Cup Question

Brazil, as ever, will be among the favourites for this summer’s World Cup. Spain may be on fire, and Argentina can call on Lionel Messi, but it would take a brave man to bet against the tournament calibre exhibited time and time again by the seleção. Yet oddly, Brazil could be entering this year’s edition with major doubts, particularly over the form of some of their biggest stars.

Exhibit A; Kaká. Since moving to Real Madrid in the summer, Kaká has failed to produce anything like the form of his Milan days. His fate, it could be argued, was doomed from the moment his signing was overshadowed by that of Cristiano Ronaldo. The quiet, affable Kaká has been superseded both on and off the field by the Portuguese, like a teddy bear cast aside as the Madridistas embrace their new Action Man. The form of Gonzalo Higuaín, too, has forced Kaká into playing a bit part so far this season.

Kaká enjoying a rare happy moment in Madrid.

In Kaká’s defence, he has had a number of niggling injuries to deal with, and has often been asked to be the square peg in a decidedly round hole. But his form (or lack thereof) is nonetheless troubling for Brazil, given that he is expected to be the primary creative force and talisman.

Further concern surrounds the form of the Juventus pair, Diego and Felipe Melo. The former, it must be said, has been an infrequent presence in the national team. But when on form, Diego provides an exciting playmaking option, and has the ability to be a viable alternative to Kaká. Since leaving Werder Bremen, however, he has only shown glimpses of the quality that prompted Juve to splash around €25 million last summer.

Can Diego provide an alternative to Kaká?

The case of Felipe Melo, however, is even more problematic. Having established himself in the seleção with some emphatic displays in the 2009 Confederations Cup, Melo was expected to secure his standing as one of the world’s top midfielders at Juventus. Things, however, have not gone to plan. Booed off the pitch against Cagliari, and frequently criticised, Melo’s form has been seen as one of the primary causes for Juve’s abject season.

Recent performances also suggest that Júlio César, undoubtedly one of the best goalkeepers around, is struggling for form. The Brazilian has looked shaky, despite being behind a solid defence at Inter (including Lúcio and Maicon, two exceptions to my argument). Fans of the seleção will be hoping that there is no repeat of his mistake against Roma, when he dropped the ball at Daniele De Rossi’s feet for the opening goal.

Kaká, Felipe Melo, and Júlio César (along with Lúcio) represent the spine of the Brazilian national team. Their poor form should be considered in conjunction with another trend – that many of the other likely starters, although playing well, are doing so in leagues that hardly provide the stiffest of challenges; Gilberto Silva in Greece, Elano in Turkey, Robinho in Brazil.

The problem may exacerbated by Dunga’s apparent reluctance to stray from the formation and personnel that performed so well in the Confederations Cup and World Cup qualifying. He has so far ignored the pleas to call up players such as Ronaldinho and Neymar, who have been in impressive form this term. The former, at least, still holds out hope of winning a place in the squad, declaring recently that he can’t imagine a World Cup without himself playing. Polls have been conducted on Brazilian sport websites, asking which of the two above (plus Paulo Henrique Ganso of Santos) ought to be called up. Yet Dunga remains unmoved.

Dunga has some tough decisions to make before June.

All this, of course, could work in Brazil’s favour. If Dunga displays confidence in his troops despite their struggles for their clubs, the seleção could benefit from improved team-spirit. An “us-against-the-world” attitude, after all, is often conducive to sporting success. Players such as Kaká, too, could benefit from their disrupted seasons, arriving in South Africa both physically fresh and mentally determined to prove yet again their right to be considered among the world’s best. Whichever way things turn out, we can be sure that the seleção will provide quite a story at the World Cup.

(Photo credits; (1) Tsutomu Takasu, (2), (3) EPA.)

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