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Thursday, December 8, 2022

Brazil have their strongest team in 20 years at the 2022 World Cup

No team has lifted the World Cup trophy as many times as Brazil. The country is synonymous with the biggest and most prestigious tournament in international soccer, having been crowned world champions five times over the course of their history. Brazil, however, have now gone 20 years without winning the World Cup.

In fact, Brazil haven’t made it past the quarter-finals since winning the World Cup back in 2002. The most romantic soccer nation on the planet has struggled to live up to expectations in recent times, but it could be different at the tournament in Qatar this winter. The Selecao appears to be stronger now than at any other point in the last two decades.

Brazil finished top of CONMEBOL qualifying, winning 14 of their 17 fixtures and drawing the other three. Tite’s team scored no fewer than 40 times in those 17 fixtures and only conceded five. These results and numbers underline the quality of a team that looks to have peaked at the right time for the 2022 World Cup.

Tite took charge of the Selecao all the way back in 2016. Back then, Brazil was still hurting from their 7-1 demolition at the hands of Germany in the semi-finals of the 2014 World Cup and so Tite’s first job was to rebuild the confidence of a nation. It took time for him to achieve this objective.

Qualification for the 2018 World Cup wasn’t easy, foreshadowing Brazil’s quarter-final exit to Belgium at the tournament itself. Many expected Tite to leave his post as manager, but the 61-year-old was entrusted to finish the job he started and the cycle for the 2022 World Cup has been much more successful so far.

Neymar is still the attacking focal point of Brazil’s team, but unlike in 2014 when he was the star of a generally low-calibre side, the Paris Saint-Germain forward is surrounded by teammates on his level. Richarlison scored seven times in six qualifying matches while Gabriel Jesus is in excellent form for Arsenal in the Premier League this season.

Antony has demonstrated his ability since making the €100m transfer to Manchester United from Ajax in the summer with Gabriel Martinelli an exceptional young talent. Then there’s Vinicius Junior, who might just be the most devastating winger playing in European soccer right now. His Real Madrid teammate Rodrygo is also capable of making a difference.

In midfield, Casemiro is widely considered a rock-solid anchor with the 30-year-old settling in quickly at Manchester United this season. Fabinho is also an option for Tite while Bruno Guimaraes has earned a place in Brazil’s squad on the back of his impressive performances for Newcastle United in the Premier League.

There is even more quality and depth at the back where Tite has Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Eder Militao and Bremer to choose from in the centre of his defence. Alisson Becker and Ederson are also two of the best goalkeepers in the modern game right now and they are both included in Brazil’s squad for the 2022 World Cup.

“We prioritised important players from the midfield to the attack, but keeping our balance is the team’s main idea,” Tite replied when asked to explain why he has loaded his Brazil squad with so many attacking players. “To win at the highest level, we need to create and score. But that doesn’t mean our defensive strength is not key to win.”

Brazil’s strength in depth is matched only by that of France’s, who will be depleted at the 2022 World Cup following injuries to Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and Raphael Varane. Richarlison was an injury concern for the Selecao, but the Tottenham Hotspur attacker is included in the squad and will be fit enough to feature.

This team is stronger for their bad experiences at recent World Cups. 2014 did emotional damage to Brazil as a soccer nation while 2018 was a disappointment as Tite struggled to find the right balance. Now, though, he has the right mix of youth and experience. This is a group that has reached maturity just as they have arrived in Qatar.

Tite has downplayed Brazil’s chances at the 2022 World Cup. The 61-year-old doesn’t want his team to get ahead of itself, but it’s difficult to look at the Selecao and not conclude they are destined for the latter rounds of the tournament. If Brazil play their best soccer, they could be unstoppable. 

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