SAO PAULO (AP) - Brazil is shaking off the embarrassment of losing 7-1 to Germany in its home World Cup.
Since Tite took over as coach in 2016, the five-time world champions have become a winning machine again and were the first to qualify for Russia.
Neymar, who missed the Germany humiliation through injury, is now racing to recover from a broken foot to make the trip to Russia.
But there isn’t such a reliance now on the world’s most expensive player. In six games without Neymar, Brazil still won four times, including a friendly against Germany in Berlin in March.
“He will be missed by any team,” defender Thiago Silva said, “but not having him sometimes helps us consolidate the style we want.”
Indeed, the Brazilians head into this World Cup looking more balanced on the pitch and with a range of top players available in every position. They were so dominant in South American qualifying that they would still have secured top spot without the points secured in six games under Dunga before the coach was fired.
Brazil should be even more dangerous in Russia if Neymar, who sustained the injury playing for Paris Saint-Germain in February, is fully fit.
“Skill wise, he is already the best player in the world,” Brazil great Pele said. “This is his time to shine.”
Here’s a closer look at the Brazil team:
In less than two years on the job, Adenor Leonardo Bachi - universally known as Tite - has turned Brazil from a flop into a favorite for the title. A former pupil of defense-minded Luiz Felipe Scolari - the 2002 World Cup champion who presided over the Germany humiliation - Tite has grown into a fan of Carlo Ancelotti and his well-balanced teams. The two have exchanged ideas since 2014. Detractors say Tite’s teams are low scoring and that he charms players and journalists into sparing him from criticism. But his title streak at Corinthians from 2011 to 2015 underscores his credentials for the national team job.
Alisson Becker wasn’t a household name in Brazil when he started wearing the No. 1 jersey two years ago. Now a starter for Roma, the 25-year-old Becker’s admirers include Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon. Alisson’s skills with both hands and feet made Tite relegate Manchester City’s Ederson to the bench and he is being linked with a move to Real Madrid. The third option is likely to be Tite’s most trusted goalkeeper, Cassio of Corinthians.
In 12 South American World Cup qualifiers games under Tite, Brazil conceded only three goals. The coach likes to play with a solid back four featuring Paris Saint-Germain duo Dani Alves and Marquinhos, Inter Milan’s Miranda and Real Madrid’s Marcelo. The two reserves are likely to be PSG central defender Thiago Silva and Juventus left back Alex Sandro. Man City’s Danilo and Corinthians’ Fagner will fight to be Alves’ reserve.
Philippe Coutinho could replace Renato Augusto, who plays at China’s Beijing Guoan, as the playmaker.
If that happens, Coutinho’s position on the left could be filled by Chelsea’s Willian. Fred is also in contention to start.
A more defensive variation would see Fernandinho, a newly crowned Premier League champion with Manchester City, take Augusto’s place. While Real Madrid’s Casemiro offers great protection to the defense, Paulinho of Barcelona is a box-to-box player who also provides goals. Other candidates to be reserves in Brazil’s midfield are not as talented, which could become a hindrance in the case of injuries and suspensions.
Even if Neymar is match fit for the World Cup, his form will only be known once the tournament begins in Russia. Tite might have to resort to using Willian in his place. While Gabriel Jesus was Brazil’s top scorer in qualifying, the Man City title winner faces greater competition from Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino. Tite lacks an old-fashioned center forward, so reserves are likely to be other mobile players: Juventus’ Douglas Costa and Shahktar Donetsk’s Taison.
Brazil stuck with its base in Sochi despite playing no games near the Black Sea resort. Group E begins in Rostov-on-Don against Switzerland on June 17. St. Petersburg is the next destination for Brazil to play Costa Rica on June 22 and Serbia awaits in Moscow on June 27.
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