COMMENTARY | In less than a year's time, the 2014 World Cup will kick off in Brazil.
The 2013 Confederations Cup offers Brazil the opportunity to convert critics into believers and develop a largely untested team against the likes of Spain, Italy, Uruguay and Mexico. Brazil's youngsters hope to reignite the national spirit by unleashing youthful talent that is aching to announce itself to the world. Perhaps most importantly, this summer's Confederations Cup--kicking off on Saturday with Brazil hosting Japan in Brasilia--is a massive step toward mentally preparing this talented team for the pressure it will face from the native population during next year's global showcase.
When critics smear Luiz Felipe Scolari's squad, they fail to fully recognize that the star of his team is a 21-year-old kid who has yet to play in Europe. Neymar will be on every television commercial, billboard and flyer at the 2014 Brazil World Cup. Actually, he already is the face of seemingly every advertisement, so that is hardly an adjustment.
On the pitch, Neymar's preparations for the event of a lifetime involve a year of training alongside Lionel Messi, the best player in the world, at Barcelona. This face of the new Brazil played for Pele's club and was the highest scorer in the post-Pele era at Santos. Along with 138 goals in 229 matches, Neymar won a string of Sao Paulo state championships, the Brazilian Cup and the Copa Libertadores, South America's most prestigious trophy.
After conquering his continent before his 22nd birthday, Neymar dons the famous gold No. 10 shirt and shoulders the pressures of the Brazilian national team before making his move to Europe. Brazil's performance at the 2013 Confederations Cup will be the difference between Neymar celebrating a hero's sendoff and escaping into exile.
How Young Are These Kids?
The average age of Brazil's projected starting lineup is a shade over 26 years.
Right back Daniel Alves is the only outfield player 30 years or older, and he only turned 30-years-old in May. Neymar and Oscar are both 21-year-olds, and the majority of the creative play either starts or finishes with these incredible talents. Dismissing Brazil's chances at the Confederations Cup and the World Cup when these two developing prodigies are at the heart of the attack is ill-advised, if not altogether foolish. No one truly knows how these two kids will develop over the next year.
The oldest member of the squad is 33-year-old Julio Cesar, who regained his place between the posts after Scolari returned to managing duties. Cesar is one of only three members of the 2010 World Cup team to survive until 2013; Alves and Thiago Silva are the other two (Note: Silva was in the squad, but he did not play a single minute during the 2010 South Africa World Cup).
The Brazil SetupCesar (Queens Park Rangers) is first choice in goal.
Silva (Paris Saint-Germain) captains the squad and partners with David Luiz (Chelsea) at the heart of the defense. Marcelo (Real Madrid) and Alves (Barcelona) provide attacking fullback wing play. Felipe Luis (Atletico Madrid) was used in place of Marcelo in a recent friendly, but Scolari prefers Real to Atleti when it comes to left backs.
The middle of the field is controlled by Luiz Gustavo Dias (Bayern Munich) and Paulinho (Corinthians). Neither player has even 15 caps to his name entering the tournament. Chelsea's Ramires was a shock omission from the squad, but both selected holding midfielders have looked sharp in recent friendlies.
Also, center back Luiz shifted into the midfield late in Brazil's friendly against France. Dante (Bayern Munich) comfortably stepped into the middle of defense with this shift, and Scolari may employ this strategy late in matches if Brazil holds a lead. Luiz often played this central midfield role for Chelsea last season, and many Londoners would adamantly argue that Luiz is better suited to play in front of Dante and Silva permanently.
With six defensive-minded players--although Alves and Marcelo offer plenty moving forward--Scolari has four dedicated attackers. First, Oscar (Chelsea) pulls the strings ahead of the holding midfielders. Then, Hulk (Zenit St. Petersburg) and Neymar (Santos/Barcelona) provide attacking width and pace on either wing ahead of Oscar. Neymar often finds himself in the middle of the attack and interchanges freely with Oscar, but Oscar lines up in the traditional No. 10 role even if Neymar is the man wearing the famous shirt.
Finally, Scolari opted for the sturdy figure of Fred (Fluminense) to spearhead the Brazilian attack. At 29 years, Fred was the experienced choice over the likes of Leandro Damiao and Alexandre Pato--both of whom were not even selected.
Experience and PressureAlthough Brazil has not technically played a competitive fixture since the Copa America in 2011, the core of the 2013 Confederations Cup squad played together at the 2012 Olympics in a competitive environment. Neymar, Hulk, Oscar, Marcelo and Silva all featured in the squad that made it to the gold medal game in London before embarrassingly crumbling under the pressure against a short-handed Mexico--probably the reason Rafael was not selected.
On Saturday, the pressure of the Olympics will pale in comparison to a full stadium of Brazilians in the capital city anxiously watching their team in a match that holds meaning. Japan is not an easy opponent, so those cheers may quickly turn to jeers if Brazil does not impress. If Brazil falls behind early, these players will immediately experience the dark side of playing at home.
Regardless of what happens in this summer's tournament, Brazil's young squad requires a taste of the pressure that the World Cup will bring. The Confederations Cup offers just that tiny teaspoon to test the team. Playing for the Seleção in a World Cup is pressure enough, but playing for Brazil in the 2014 World Cup on home soil yields more pressure than a deep sea dive to the depths of Mariana's Trench without earplugs.
A strong showing in the Confederations Cup would go a long way to convincing the fans and building public belief in Brazil's chances in 2014. Along with building confidence within the team, public confidence would immensely ease pressure on the squad. It is considerably more enjoyable to play in front of a supportive crowd than a stadium full of nervous eyes anxiously anticipating errors.
For Brazil, the 2013 Confederations Cup is about experiencing the pressure, building confidence and converting the critics.
After Saturday against Japan, Brazil plays Mexico in Fortaleza on Jun. 19 and Italy in Salvador on Jun 22.
Shahan Ahmed is a Yahoo! Contributor in Sports. He is Director of European Football and Chief Editor for AccuScore, and he will be providing Yahoo! daily Confederations Cup coverage for the duration of the tournament. You can interact with Shahan on Twitter @ShahanLA
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- Luiz Felipe Scolari
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