World Cup preview: Brazil

Ahead of this summer's World Cup in Russia, Sports Mole previews the chances of five-time champions Brazil as they look to lift the trophy for the first time since 2002.

No nation can boast a richer World Cup history than Brazil, and the five-time champions will arrive in Russia this summer among the favourites to add another title to their haul.

Some of the defining moments in previous World Cup tournaments have had the yellow of Brazil splashed across them, although they will desperate to redeem themselves following arguably the lowest moment in their entire history four years ago.

The Brazil team line up before their friendly game with Croatia on June 3, 2018© Reuters

A 7-1 semi-final defeat to Germany on home soil resulted in a public outcry at the direction of the team, who are now without a World Cup title since 2002 - a significant drought by their standards.

Here, Sports Mole looks at Brazil's chances of ending that at Russia 2018.


GROUP

Brazil will always be considered favourites to qualify from any World Cup group they are drawn in, and that is no different this summer as they come up against Costa Rica, Serbia and Switzerland in Group E.

World Cup Group E

Brazil's opening match against Switzerland - who won nine of their 10 qualifying games - is likely to be their most difficult on paper, although every opponent in their group is expected to put up a stern fight.

Costa Rica finished above Uruguay, Italy and England in their group stage four years ago, while Serbia's only previous World Cup appearance included a win over Germany, so there are banana skins for Brazil to look out for.

BRAZIL FIXTURES

June 17: Brazil vs. Switzerland (7pm, Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don)
June 22: Brazil vs. Costa Rica (1pm, Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg)
June 27: Serbia vs. Brazil (7pm, Otkritie Arena, Moscow)


HOW THEY QUALIFIED

Brazil were the first team aside from hosts Russia to book their place at this summer's World Cup, keeping themselves clear of a mad scramble behind them in the South American qualifying section.

It was not all plain sailing, though; their campaign began with a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Chile. Indeed, Brazil won just two of their opening six qualifying games before Dunga was sacked in the wake of their group-stage exit from the Copa America in the summer of 2016.

Brazil players celebrate after clinching qualification for the 2018 World Cup in Russia© Reuters

The turnaround under Tite was instant, though, with Brazil winning their next nine qualifying matches to seal their place in Russia with four games to spare.

The six teams behind them in the standings were all still fighting for qualification on the final day, when Brazil signed off in style with a 3-0 win over Chile which not only denied their opponents a place at the World Cup, but also ensured that they finished 10 points clear.

Brazil also boasted the best attack and best defence during qualifying, so will be considered by many to be South America's best hope of glory in Russia.


RECENT FORM

Brazil will head into the World Cup in fine form, having continued to build momentum across Tite's two years in charge. In 21 games under the 57-year-old's watch, in fact, the Selecao have won 17 and lost just one.

Including their most recent friendly against Austria at the weekend, ending in a 3-0 win in Vienna, Brazil have kept a clean sheet in 15 of those 17 triumphs and scored 47 times.

Neymar, Willian and Paulinho celebrate during Brazil's international friendly with Austria in June 2018© Reuters

As well as brushing aside Austria with a determined second-half display, Tite's charges have also defeated Russia, Croatia and, most impressive of all, Germany since the turn of the year.

Whether up against defensive opponents or a side that will look to attack them, as was the case against the reigning World champions, Brazil have passed each test in their pre-tournament friendlies.


SQUAD

Brazil World Cup squad

Goalkeepers: Alisson (Roma), Ederson (Manchester City), Cassio (Corinthians).

Defenders: Danilo (Manchester City), Fagner (Corinthians), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid), Thiago Silva, Marquinhos (both Paris St-Germain), Miranda (Inter Milan) Pedro Geromel (Gremio).

Midfielders: Casemiro (Real Madrid), Fernandinho (Manchester City), Paulinho (Barcelona), Fred (Shakhtar Donetsk), Renato Augusto (Beijing Guoan), Philippe Coutinho (Barcelona), Willian (Chelsea), Douglas Costa (Juventus).

Forwards: Neymar Jr (Paris St-Germain), Taison (Shakhtar Donetsk), Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City), Roberto Firmino (Liverpool).


STAR PLAYER - Neymar

Brazil and Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar in action during the World Cup warm-up match against Croatia at Anfield on June 3, 2018© Reuters

In a side oozing talent everywhere you look, the poster boy of the 2014 World Cup still stands head and shoulders above the rest of his teammates.

Neymar was one of the few players whose reputation remained intact following the infamous 7-1 loss to Germany four years ago, as he more than lived up to his billing before picking up an injury in the round prior.

Heartbreak almost struck again for the world's most expensive player, having left the field in tears during Paris Saint-Germain's 2-0 win over Marseille in February and only just returned to action.

How else would the playboy footballer mark his comeback than with a fine strike in his side's win against Croatia in their penultimate World Cup friendly, weaving past a couple of players and finding the back of the net at Anfield.

Neymar is a true superstar of the sport and, after being given a forced three-month break in the lead-up to the tournament, he will fancy adding to his tally of 28 goals this season and 55 strikes in 85 appearances for his country.


MANAGER - Tite

Brazil coach Tite gestures on the touchline during an international friendly with Croatia at Anfield on June 3, 2018© Reuters

Tite has helped to turn Brazil's fortunes around since his appointment in June 2016, winning his first nine games in charge following Dunga's sacking in the wake of their early Copa America exit.

Having been forced to retire at just 27 years old, Tite began his coaching career early and built up vast amounts of experience as he moved up the levels in Brazilian football.

The 57-year-old flirted with brief spells in the UAE, but he returned for a second stint at Corinthians in 2010 and subsequently led the club to their first ever Copa Libertadores title in 2012, going on to beat Chelsea to the FIFA Club World Cup later that year too.

Tite then returned to Corinthians for a third time after a sabbatical, and more success followed as he steered the team to the 2015 Brazilian title with the best campaign in the history of the tournament.


WORLD CUP RECORD

Best finish: Winners (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)

Pele wheels away in celebration after scoring in the 1970 World Cup final against Italy© Reuters

No country has lifted the World Cup more often than Brazil's tally of five, three of which came within the Pele-inspired golden era between 1958 and 1970 - the latter of which is regarded by many as the greatest team of all time.

Pele is by no means the only Brazilian player with legendary World Cup status, though, and the likes of Garrincha, Jairzinho, Zico, Socrates, Romario, Rivaldo, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Cafu, Ronaldinho, Kaka and Neymar - amongst others - have all played their part in the embellishment of their country's inextricable ties to the tournament.

In addition to winning the trophy five times, Brazil have finished as runners-up in 1950 and 1998 - both of which involved plenty of controversy. The 1950 defeat to Uruguay on home soil is considered one of the lowest moments in Brazil's history, while the mystery over Ronaldo's fitness overshadowed their 1998 loss to France.

The only chapter in Brazil's history which plunged to similar depths to 'The Maracanazo' - the name given to that 1950 defeat to Uruguay - once again came on home soil four years ago when they were on the end of one of the most humiliating defeats ever seen at the World Cup as Germany ran out 7-1 winners in the semi-finals.

That was Brazil's 11th semi-final from their 20 previous World Cup campaigns, with the Selecao boasting the record of being the only team to have participated in every single edition of the tournament.

Overall Brazil have played 104 World Cup games, winning 70, drawing 17 and losing 17 while scoring 221 goals and conceding 102.


PREDICTION

As always, Brazil will be expected to go far at this summer's tournament, particularly as they look to banish the memories of four years ago, and they should have little trouble in topping Group E.

Doing so would likely see them face Mexico in the last 16 and then Belgium in the quarter-finals, both of which are matches they will be expected to win.

A semi-final against France - a repeat of the final from 20 years ago - is next up in our prediction for the tournament, and while France boast one of the best squads in Russia, we're also backing Brazil to get through that one.

The ultimate redemption and revenge could be exacted against Germany in the final, then, and considering their fearsome defensive record under Tite and the attacking flair at their disposal, we're backing Brazil to go all the way and lift the trophy for a sixth time.

VERDICT: Winners

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How far will Brazil go at this summer's World Cup?

Group Stages
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Quarter-finals
Semi-finals
Runners-up
Winners
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Netherlands' forward Arjen Robben celebrates with his team-mates after scoring a goal during a Group B football match between Spain and the Netherlands at the Fonte Nova Arena in Salvador during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 13, 2014
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