The latest in a long line of mesmeric Brazilian strikers was supposed to hang around at Santos until after the World Cup. But he bolted for Barca a year earlier than planned, a move so financially convoluted and shady that it led to the resignation of Barca’s president and several investigations. Neymar was nevertheless a huge success. The strain of a European season could come home to roost when he returns home for the big dance, though.
Getty ImagesLintao Zhang
Brazil is the only country to have played in every single World Cup and the only team to have won it five times. The Selecao reached three consecutive finals from 1994 through 2002, winning the first and last of those. But in the two editions since then, they have crashed out in the quarterfinals, an unimaginable misfortune to befall this besotted soccer nation.
Action ImagesScott Heavey
The Brazilians have gone through a bit of an identity crisis in recent years. In South Africa in 2010, their manager Dunga, a former World Cup-winning defensive midfielder, insisted on playing a very un-Brazilian style. Pouncing on the counter-attack, with a raft of holding midfielders in tow, the game’s ultimate creators turned reactive. It was pragmatic, a dirty word in countries that appreciate the beauty in the game. The joga bonito was nowhere to be found then. And Brazil had a forgettable tournament -- something that’s also unfamiliar to them. His successor Mano Menezes didn’t change things around much, until the criticism grew too loud. Still, it was too late to save his job. So when Big Phil Scolari, who had managed Brazil to their last World Cup win in 2002, was reinstated as manager, he brought back the attacking flair. And at last summer’s Confederations Cup, A Selecao finally looked like itself again.
Action Images / ReutersSERGIO MORAES
How they got here
The host team qualified automatically.
Action ImagesCarl Recine
Peachy of sorts. A soft Group A draw with Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon will allow Brazil to do what all serious contenders must: slowly grow into the tournament. The expectations will tower over them, but they’ll have no trouble advancing.
Action ImagesLee Smith
Round of 16 prospects
Tricky. Crossing over with one of the toughest batches of teams – Group B’s defending world champions Spain, vice-world champions the Netherlands, Chile and Australia – all but guarantees that the Brazilians will face a very tough first knockout game indeed. And they had better not trip up.
Action ImagesLee Smith
There is no ambiguity whatsoever about what is being demanded of the 11 lining up in the gold and green jerseys come June. The Brazilians expect Brazil to lift their sixth World Cup. Plain and simple. To make amends, in a sense, for 1950, when the only other World Cup on Brazilian soil was lost to Uruguay in the final -- a national tragedy long in the memory. The task at hand, however, is much less straightforward. The pressure will be crippling -- even more so than in 1950. And, more alarmingly, the talent might not be there. Certainly, Brazil won the Confederations Cup. But this is no vintage Brazilian side. Neymar will surely dazzle up front. But the rest of the team is young overall, suspect in some spots in the back, somewhat uncohesive in midfield, and lacking a consistent goal-scoring threat in attack. A semifinals elimination to either Spain or Germany is the most likely outcome.