Thursday 31 July 2014

Five players in Brazil YOUR club should sign

With prices rising ever higher in Europe, more and more sides will be looking further afield as they seek to boost their squads this summer.

Contrary to received wisdom, Brazil is no longer one of the great training grounds of the beautiful game. Coaching, even in the upper echelons of Brazil's league system, often leaves a great deal to be desired, while funding and long-term planning have increasingly become alien concepts.

This, of course, is a discussion for another time, but it is noticeable that the talent does not flow as thick and fast as it once did. But there are bright spots, even they owe more to sheer weight of numbers than anything else.

For MirrorFootball, I have chosen five players based in Brazil that could make an impact in the Premier League. Find out who they are here.

Wednesday 23 July 2014

No order, no progress: Dunga reappointment shows Brazil have failed to learn from mistakes

The Brazilian national flag is unique in including, in text, two ideals the country purports to uphold. One is order, the other progress.

A whistle-stop tour through the history books – colonisation, slavery, corruption – reveals that, at various points in this country's short, fraught history, one or other of the two has not always been perfectly preserved.

Sport, of course, has a funny way of echoing or mirroring society at large, and so Brazil's football history has been peppered with its fair share of ignominy in between the dizzying highs. At times there has been order; at others progress; but rarely have the two gone hand-in-hand.

Read this piece on the return of Dunga to the Brazil national team on the Yahoo! Eurosport site.

Sunday 13 July 2014

Luiz Felipe Scolari must go, but Brazil's issues run deeper

If the World Cup final is the game no one wants to lose, the third-place play-off is normally the game no one wants to play.

On this occasion, though, one of the coaches might just have been glad of the opportunity. Having seen his Brazil side eviscerated by Germany earlier in the week, Luiz Felipe Scolari was likely eyeing a consolatory victory over the Netherlands on Saturday night.

Like being handed a Twix after a tornado, it would not have provided too much comfort to most. Brazil fans were left stunned by the Mineiraço, the days since blurring together in a state of disbelief. But for Scolari, the old war horse, it was a chance to shift the landscape, even if just a touch.

He had spent the days since the Germany game speaking of a mental “blackout” on the pitch – a six-minute spell during which he “could have done nothing” to prevent the Seleção conceding four times. While he explicitly assumed responsibility for the loss, there was a hint of buck-passing here: if not onto the players then at least onto some higher power who had seen fit to curse his side in this manner. Such ideas hold some sway in superstitious, God-fearing Brazil.

Read the rest of my final Yahoo! Eurosport blog from Rio de Janeiro here.

Saturday 12 July 2014

Five players Brazil should have selected for the World Cup

They say that while success has many fathers, failure is always an orphan. That, though, is categorically not the case for this Brazilian World Cup campaign, at least in the eyes of the local media, who have spent the days since the earth-shattering defeat to Germany pointing the finger at anyone with even a passing connection to the squad.

The first victim of the guillotine, of course, is likely to be coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. Tactically, he got it all wrong against Germany. Instead of following his scouts' advice and bolstering his midfield, he elected for the nippy, playground flair of Bernard on the flank. The 21-year-old never looked like he was making an impression, while Luiz Gustavo and Fernandinho were outnumbered and overwhelmed in the centre of the park.

But perhaps Scolari's biggest errors came in his squad selection. Both he and Neymar have insisted in recent days that anyone would have picked the same 23, but that does not ring true. One look at the squad reveals players (Henrique, Maxwell, Jô) who could and should have been left out in favour of other, more dynamic options.

Read the rest of this piece on the ESPN FC site.

Thursday 10 July 2014

Who should stay and who should go from the current squad as Brazil look to the future?

Brazilians might just about be recovering their breath after the shock and awe of Tuesday night's Mineiraço, but the inquest is just getting started. The Seleção's worst ever World Cup defeat has sparked understandable soul-searching in Brazil, with fans and journalists alike trying to make sense of the savage 7-1 loss to Germany.

Much of the ire thus far has been directed at coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who, despite remaining tight-lipped over his future in the wake of the game, will surely vacate the building after this most galling of failures. "Go to hell, Felipão," read one front page on Wednesday. It captured the nation's mood.

But while debates over the structural changes that must be made to get Brazilian football back on track will rage for months and years, there is a more pressing question at hand: Which members of the current squad deserve to be preserved for next year's Copa América – and thinking further ahead, the 2018 World Cup?

Read my player-by-player assessment on the ESPN FC Brazil blog.

What now for Brazil? Humbling at the Mineirão must spark changes

If there was ever a result to shake a nation to its core, this was it.

Brazil did not expect this. Even if Neymar's injury had lowered expectations a touch ahead of the semi-final against Germany, nothing could have prepared the home fans for what happened on Tuesday night.

It was their biggest home game in 64 years; the pressure was at fever pitch. They knew Germany would be a tough side to beat, especially without their captain and best player. But still. 7-1?

The question, once the dust has settled, will be this: "What now for Brazil?"

Read the rest of this post on the MirrorFootball site.

Dante's inferno: Without Thiago Silva, Brazil's defence crumbles to dust

When Neymar was stretchered off the field in the dying moments of Brazil's quarter-final victory over Colombia on Friday, Brazil fans feared the worst. Confirmation came from the hospital soon after: the forward had fractured a vertebra and would miss the rest of the World Cup.

Immediately, the speculation began over how Luiz Felipe Scolari would set his side up to counteract the absence of its talisman and top scorer against Germany. Pick an extra central midfielder and hope for a goal from a set piece? Start Willian wide and give Oscar a more central role? No one could replace Neymar's star quality, of course, but there were decisions to be made, plans to be foiled.

Yet amid all the bluster, it was almost forgotten that Brazil would be missing another key player in the semifinal. And in the event, Thiago Silva, suspended after picking up a silly booking against Colombia, would prove the more telling loss.

Read the rest of this piece, on Brazil's defensive implosion, on the ESPN FC blog.

Living room scene: How (some) Brazilians watched their team get destroyed by Germany

Volume up, lights down. A fairly typical family in Rio de Janeiro state settles down to watch the game.

The scene is being repeated all over the country: it is 4pm but when Brazil play 200 million people down tools and head home or to a bar. They even declare a half-day public holiday to make it official.

The game is on almost every channel. Of course it is: this is the biggest game in Brazil since 1950. We opt for Globo, not because its coverage is the best (it's definitely, definitely not) or because, on such occasions, when history is to be made one way or the other, it feels appropriate to do what everyone else is doing. The power of shared experience, or something.

Read the rest of this piece on the Yahoo! Eurosport site.

Wednesday 9 July 2014

Brazil 1-7 Germany: How the Brazilian press reacted to the Seleção's nightmare evening

The Brazilian press pulled no punches in the wake of the Seleção’s humiliating 7-1 defeat to Germany on Tuesday.

The hopes and expectations that Brazil carried into the tournament turned to dust at the Mineirão, with Joachim Low’s side ruthlessly exposing the hosts’ flaws.

“The disgrace of all disgraces” read the GloboEsporte headline, followed by: “Massacred tactically and technically, Brazil suffer the worst defeat of all time.”

Read the rest of this round-up here and check out O Globo's savage Brazil player ratings here.

Mineiraço: Brazil's tragic defeat to Germany will be talked about in hushed tones for years to come

Vamo, vamo, vamo,” David Luiz hollered in the tunnel. Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go! Brazil’s newest cult hero and temporary captain then stood in silence for a few seconds, steely-eyed, gazing out onto the pitch. A deep breath or two and then the roar.

Luiz led Brazil out onto the pitch in that familiar funereal procession. No one knew just how appropriate that slow walk would prove. As the anthem started, he raised a shirt high above his head. ‘Neymar 10’, it read. Brazil’s fallen hero, remembered as if he had passed away.

The tears may have subsided in the wake of the Chile game, but this was still an emotionally charged moment. Of course it was: this was Brazil’s biggest home game for 64 years.

But even before hindsight cast the Neymar tribute in such a damning light, the contrast between the sides was telling. While Germany lined up like a super-powered Flamengo side (what an occasion to use that shirt for the first time in the World Cup!), Brazil were again caught up in the moment.

Read the rest of this piece on Tuesday's Mineiraço on the MirrorFootball site.

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Hope springs eternal: has Neymar's injury taken the pressure off Brazil?

Although Juan Camilo Zúñiga probably did not realise it at the time, his challenge on Neymar in the closing stages of Brazil’s quarter-final win over Colombia has changed the complexion of this World Cup.

The inquest in the Brazilian media began almost immediately: opinion pieces riddled words like “cowardly” and “criminal” occupied far more column inches than the result itself the following morning; medical diagrams of the spine had been printed in every sport pullout in the country by Sunday.

You would have thought by the reaction that someone had died rather than been ruled out of two football matches. But then Neymar, perhaps the most beloved Brazilian out there at this moment in history, is of such importance to Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side that the sense of loss is understandable.

Yet there is an argument to be made – albeit one that requires something of a leap of faith – that Zúñiga has done Brazil a favour. While Neymar’s absence will be keenly felt on the field, the Seleção may just have stumbled into a psychological landscape that suits them perfectly.

Read the rest of this piece on the Mirror website.

Monday 7 July 2014

World Cup preview: Brazil vs Germany

The nation may be in a state of semi-mourning after Neymar was ruled out of the World Cup, but Brazil are nonetheless through to the final four.

Now, though, things get really tough. The Seleção face their toughest opponents so far in the form of Joachim Low's Germany, who will be looking to avenge the 2002 final defeat. Can Luiz Felipe Scolari get one over on Die Mannschaft again to seal a place in the final at the Maracanã?

Sunday 6 July 2014

What now for Brazil with Neymar injured?

Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has to find the answer to a question he hoped would never be asked. It's one that has been on the lips of Seleção fans for the last year or so, albeit always hypothetical before this week: What do Brazil do without Neymar?

Thanks to Juan Zuñiga's clumsiness, the Barcelona star has been ruled out for the rest of the World Cup. Brazil must find a way to cope without their talisman and best player.

For MirrorFootball, I look at five possible tactical solutions for the Seleção.

For ESPN FC, five players who have to step up to the plate to make up for the loss of Neymar.

Saturday 5 July 2014

Neymar injury sours win over Colombia and could ruin Brazil's World Cup hopes

For once this tournament, Brazil were buoyant.

Thiago Silva's redemptive goal had set the tone in their World Cup quarter-final against Colombia. When David Luiz added a sensational second after the interval, it looked like being the night on which their title hopes truly came back to life.

But that was before the real news of the evening filtered through.

Neymar had left the field on a stretcher following a clumsy challenge by Juan Zuñiga in the second half before being taken to hospital. The forward had appeared to be in some pain on the way down the tunnel, clutching his lower back and grimacing.

After the final whistle, the coach Luiz Felipe Scolari admitted that he would be a doubt for the semi-final against Germany. But even that uncertainty – that sweet, hopeful uncertainty – was soon snatched away from Brazil. Neymar, the team doctor revealed an hour or so later, had fractured a vertebrae. He will miss the rest of the World Cup.

Read the rest of this piece on the Yahoo! Eurosport site.

Friday 4 July 2014

Tears for fears: On Brazil players crying and what it tells us about the pressure they are under

There is an advert on Brazilian television at the moment that stars Seleção captain Thiago Silva. He’s sat on a bus, which is passing through a tunnel. He is all alone and begins a monologue to camera, detailing the challenges he has had to overcome to become the player he is today. Then he looks out the window, wistfully. It looks like he is on the verge of bursting into tears.

It would be foolish to read too much into a bit of publicity, of course, but it is hard not to see the clip as a perfect metaphor for Brazil’s World Cup to date. There is plenty of emotion, sure, but it feels laden with negativity, like a weight on the shoulders of players who 12 months ago were joyously running riot at the Confederations Cup.

My latest Yahoo! Eurosport article is about the emotional instability that appears to be gripping the Brazil camp. Read it here.

Thursday 3 July 2014

World Cup preview: Brazil vs Colombia

Four games down, three to go.

Following the nervy, error-strewn victory over Chile, Brazil's World Cup campaign continues on Friday against Jose Pekerman's impressive Colombia side.

With the Cafeteros so fluent so far, it could be a tough task for the Seleção in Fortaleza. Neymar has been passed fit for Brazil, but doubts persist over the hosts' title credentials after a series of below-par displays.

Carl Worswick and I have previewed the game for ESPN FC. Read our take here.

I also contributed to this betting preview for Unibet.

And for the Mirror: five key battles at the Castelão.

Wednesday 2 July 2014

Scolari's choice: On Brazil's Plan B – or lack thereof

Before the World Cup began, most observers felt that the settled nature of Brazil's side was a huge advantage. Manager Luiz Felipe Scolari seemed to have found the winning formula during the Confederations Cup, providing answers to questions that had troubled the Seleção for years.

Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho emerged as a genuine centre-midfield pairing after months of uncertainty; Júlio César made the goalkeeping berth his own; Hulk silenced his doubters to become a certain starter; Fred jumped to the head of the queue of slightly underwhelming Brazilian strikers. Everywhere you looked, there was stability. "We have a team," remarked former Seleção striker Tostão with customary succinctness.

How quickly things change. After four largely underwhelming World Cup games, the local press is conducting an ongoing inquest into Brazil's tactical set-up.

Read the rest of this article on the ESPN FC website.