Tim Vickery’s Notes From South America: Tite Has Squad Selection Headaches Despite Success

Brazil’s short term mission is accomplished. They won the recent Copa America.

No other result would have been acceptable. Brazil were at home, with a 100% record as Copa hosts. But they also had a poor recent tournament record, and badly needed a win to get the fans back onside. Plenty of new players have been introduced; 12 have made their debuts since last year’s World Cup.  But the short term focus also meant that there were places in the squad for a number of veterans, some of whom will begin to be discarded.

The road towards the next World Cup opens up this Friday, when coach Tite announces his squad for next month’s friendlies against Colombia and Peru.

This is a particularly difficult call up. The squad that won the Copa America are clearly in need of a rest. Almost all of them are based in Europe, their exertions over the summer mean that they turned up late for pre-season training, and it would be hard on them to have to cross the Atlantic for these friendlies in Miami and Los Angeles.

Tite, then, might be tempted to include more home –based players. But here he runs into the problem of the Brazilian calendar. The games come thick and fast, and these FIFA dates clash with the two legged final of the domestic cup. The last four – Gremio, Athletico Paranaense, Internacional and Cruzeiro – are big hitters who might be expected to supply some players to the squad.  But the coach will come under considerable pressure to leave these clubs alone.

Deciding on the composition of this next squad, then, will not be easy. Looking long term, though, these are some of the areas that Tite will have to address.

Goalkeeper is certainly not a problem position. If Alisson is injured the coach can count on Ederson. Marquinhos would seem booked in at centre back, but he could soon have a new partner. Both Thiago Silva and Miranda, are now at the veteran stage, and may be phased out in favour of recent Real Madrid signing Eder Militao.

Surprisingly, full back has become a headache. Daniel Alves remains in fine form. But at 36 he cannot go on for ever, and there is no top class replacement on the horizon. On the other flank the expectation is that Renan Lodi might replace Filipe Luis, just as he has done with Atletico Madrid.

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It is at the other end, though, that things are especially interesting. True, Brazil won the Copa America. But twice in six games they were held to a goalless draw. Breaking the deadlock was not easy. There was a clear lack of a centre forward, even if only as an option off the bench.  The picture is complicated this time by the fact that Gabriel Jesus is suspended – though he forced his way back into the side as a striker cutting in from wide. The man he replaced was Richarlison, probably the closest that Tite has to a conventional number nine.  But he is essentially a front to goal striker, hence his preference for starting from a wider position.

So there is room for experimentation in Friday’s squad. Pedro of Fluminense is an option, though he lacks pace and is still feeling his way back from injury. Might Joelinton’s big money move to the Premier League have boosted his profile?

And then, of course, there is Neymar. After his injury and amid all of the doubts surrounding his future, he may well appreciate being rushed back into the squad. Brazil certainly still see him as a vital part of their plans – and maybe in a new role. Rather than cutting in from the left, it could be that Neymar will feature in a floating role through the middle – the function that Phillippe Coutinho carried out during the Copa America.  It is something that Brazil are keen to test as they set out on the road to Qatar.

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