The final 23-man squads for this summer’s World Cup have begun to trickle in. There have been few surprises but only a couple of mild head-turners – the presence of Sami Khedira, the absence of Obafemi Martins – but on the whole, the fans will see pretty much who the expected to at the Samba Cup.
In fact, the greatest debate has come from the host nation, as the team Luis Felipe Scolari announced on Thursday does not feature Kaka, Robinho, Lucas Moura, Philippe Coutinho or Lucas Leiva.
The team harkens back to last year’s victorious Confederations Cup team, featuring 16 players from that outfit. Unless midfielders usually accustomed to the park’s center are shifted outside, width will have to come from the full-back, while only three strikers have been listed (the monosyllabically-named trio of Hulk, Fred and Jo). This means this iteration of Brazil will rely heavily on attacking midfielders to score.
For attacking midfielders, just read: Neymar. Despite the presence of players like Paulinho and Oscar, this is Neymar’s team and it should be his tournament. The most precocious talent to come out of Brazil since Ronaldo, the €90 million man should view the next eight weeks as the perfect opportunity to make own this home tournament and join the elitest of the elite – Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
If Brazil are to succeed, he will have to. Always capable of the sublime, yet occasionally prone to flitting around the ephemera of games, Neymar will have to dominate his next seven games in a way he has only occasionally done in his young European career. A harmonious Brazil with Neymar as its focal point has every chance of lifting the trophy; should anyone else become Scolari’s muse, the team would appear slightly faceless. Neymar is Brazil’s biggest star and the Selecao need his force of personality to impel a long run.
The task of pulling the whole of Brazil along behind him must be Neymar’s. He has the understated arrogance of the best, the skills of no-one besides his clubmate Messi and perhaps most crucially of all, both opportunity and licence. It is his time to be the Alpha dog and act like a superstar – to do so would intensify local support ever further and imbue his teammates with faith in their go-to man.
While Kaka and Ronaldinho were for a time great, their careers have both featured a long, almost terminal, downward arc. It has been some time since we were gifted a transcendent Brazilian whose talent perpetuated for at least a decade – the World Cup of 2014 will hopefully present us with the latest in the genealogy that Pele begat.