By Kris Voakes
Only six months ago, Brazilian football was considered something of a laughing stock, yet the inclusion of seven Canarinha players in the 2012-13 Goal 50 and the return of the hunger which sums up the nation’s history in the sport suggests the Selecao swagger is well and truly back.
Being hosts and five-time champions of the world, the globe’s most successful nation should really have been regarded as huge favourites for the 2014 World Cup from the moment they were announced as hosts. But the fact it took such an overwhelming climax to the 2012-13 season before they were even taken seriously as contenders says much for the state in which the game in Brazil found itself.
A calamitous defeat to the Netherlands at the last World Cup, the failure to win more than a single game at the Copa America in Argentina and underwhelming results in equally underwhelming friendly matches had seen Brazil slip to an all-time low of 22nd in the Fifa World Rankings. More importantly, the poor run of form had also seen the back of both Dunga and Mano Menezes from the role of national team coach.
|SEVEN SAMBA STARS
Brazilians in the Goal 50
But the last few months have seen something of a sea change, culminating in Confederations Cup glory and seven selections in the Goal 50.
Beyond the national game, there has also been a notable number of Brazilians gaining club honours, with Thiago Silva, Paulinho and Fernandinho all league champions in recent times and Dante and Luiz Gustavo both treble winners with Bayern Munich. Come the summer, they showed on the world stage that winning can be just as addictive and just as habitual as underperforming had become for Brazil in recent years.
The response of the players themselves has been unequivocal. To them, Brazil belongs among the giants of the game.
“We are not behind anyone else,” claimed Fred, scorer of five goals at the Confederations Cup and ranked at 13 in the Goal 50.
“We’ve always been a school, a cradle for great players. Every day you have a new player in Brazil, which is amazing. It’s not a surprise that the big European clubs come here to look for our talent.
“This nomination for the Goal 50 shows that, and the Confederations Cup win and the control of Brazilian clubs in the Copa Libertadores also make a point.”
His words were echoed by Anzhi Makhachkala star Willian, who has struggled to make a long-term impact on the national side but came in 38th in the Goal 50 and remains one of Europe’s top attackers.
“Brazil has always had top players and every moment there’s a new prospect appearing somewhere. The Selecao also did superbly at the Confederations Cup and the team has been improving recently,” Willian told Goal. “I’m sure we will keep on forging great players."
|"Brazil has always been a school, a cradle for great players. It's no surprise that the big European clubs come here to look for talent"
And that ability to continually provide footballers with great class and technical ability means that Brazil have so much to offer to the game just months after it was considered that the Canarinha would be heading for a home World Cup to play the part of passengers.
Almost everywhere you look, champion clubs had a Brazilian influence somewhere in their ranks during 2012-13. Paris Saint-Germain had Thiago Silva, Alex, Lucas and Maxwell among their number on the way to Ligue 1 glory, Manchester United won the Premier League with Rafael and Anderson, Barcelona clinched La Liga with Dani Alves and Adriano, while Dante, Luiz Gustavo and Rafinha were German and European champions with Bayern Munich. Even Russian champions CSKA Moscow boasted Mario Fernandes in their successful side.
Then, of course, there was the first ever Copa Libertadores triumph for Atletico Mineiro in July to add to Sao Paulo’s maiden Copa Sudamericana crown at the end of 2012. For anyone looking hard enough, there was plenty of evidence of a Brazilian resurgence long before the Confederations Cup win.
And to top it all off, there is now a centrepiece too. Many Brazilians claimed in the early part of the Confeds that the national team still missed an experienced playmaker, yet by the time the tournament was over most had been convinced that Neymar is ready to come through on his endless potential.
Footballing royalty Pele has even gone as far as to proclaim that the 21-year-old can become better than Lionel Messi.
"I love Messi, I love the player," Pele told Goal. "But Neymar has really gone up the last two years. He can use both feet well and get up in the air. I think Neymar has the capabilities to play better than Messi."
Neymar's €57 million switch to Messi's Barcelona means he will now face the full spotlight of world football as he attempts to elevate himself to the very top of the game, and judging by the way he thrived on the attention around Brazil in June, he is more than ready to please. The return of the Canarinha was always going to need the presence of a great No.10 and it appears as though they may well have one in Neymar.
Yet for now, the job remains half done at both national and club level. Any player slacking off over the next 10 months will be guaranteed fierce competition such is the depth of quality available to Luiz Felipe Scolari. Meanwhile, a failure to mount a serious challenge at the World Cup finals will no doubt be used as a stick with which to beat Brazil once more.
But the signs are good. Neymar’s switch to Barcelona speaks of exciting times to come, while the World Cup and all of its knock-on effects could yet make this another golden era. Collectively and individually, Brazilian football is rebuilding to a position of real strength. The swagger of the samba boys is most definitely back.
|GOAL 50 GAME
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