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Brazil cruising towards a sixth star

Wednesday 4th July 2018

Every four years, the conversation comes around to who we think will win the World Cup. you can always expect the same answers. Optimists will say England while the realists will have a punt at Germany. Argentina, Italy and Spain will get a few votes each but the one topping the poll is usually Brazil. It doesn’t seem to matter what form the Selecao bring to a major tournament, expectations will always be sky high and the boys from Brazil among the main contenders.

The final four in 2014 aside, they have generally carried that tag quite well. Brazil hold the record with five World Cup wins but it's an extremely proud footballing nation. Demand for success is so high many wonder why they didn’t win the other 15. Brazilians are no different than Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United fans. The burning question here is whether the current team is worthy of such status? 

The tournament didn't get off to the best of starts with a 1-1 draw in the opening game against Switzerland. Tite's XI weren't that far off the money. A few times the final ball wasn't up to scratch and they were a little bit rusty. It was a similar story against Costa Rica until late goals from Coutinho and Neymar helped them win 2-0 to get their campaign rolling. 

Against Serbia, there was further evidence of improvement. Brazil ran out 2-0 winners. There were moments when their attacking players in particular really began to click. In their most recent game, against Mexico in the last 16, Brazil finally looked like the team we all expect. The movement, tricks, flicks and passes around corners were on the money. The Selecao looked to be streets ahead of any other team we have watched in this tournament. 

Have they reached perfection? 

Perfection in World Cup terms is probably the Brazilian side of 1970. This side aren't that good and probably never will be. However, football was a different game then, far less disciplined than it is now. There's no way a team could or would field five number 10s, which Mario Zagallo did in Mexico. 

Modern football is more about balance. It is probably to the game's detriment that gung-ho tactics have long since disappeared, certainly from a fans perspective. But winning remains the priority. To do that you need a good defence. Defending hasn't been something that Brazilians have been associated with over the years but this team is very strong at the back.  It will stand them in good stead for the battles ahead with the likes of Belgium, then France or Uruguay.

Not only do Brazil have a fine defence, they also have some of the best attacking talent in the world. Neymar is the world's most expensive player, Coutinho is another superstar who just seems to be getting better every time he steps on the pitch. Often unheralded, Willian was superb in the win over Mexico. The one issue at present is Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City man is yet to score. Too often the Brazilian attack breaks down at his feet. Roberto Firmino is waiting in the wings and arguably has a better connection with Neymar and Coutinho. He scored with virtually his first touch after coming on against Mexico. Rightly or wrongly, Tite has shown faith in Jesus until now. We'll have to wait until the quarterfinal to see whether Firmino's goal finally broke that faith. 

Playing for the Selecao brings immense pressure. So far, this team is coping well. Tite's has proven a masterstroke. Brazil are a step above their rivals at the moment. Come the 15th July, there is a good chance the Selecao will collect their sixth World Cup crown. 

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Gerry Johnston

I am a 33-year-old sports writer from Ireland who enjoys watching European football. My main focus is La Liga, but I do keep a close eye on all of the major leagues throughout the world.

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