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 By Tim Vickery

Brazil call-up for Diego Souza is curious, but Tite knows what he's doing

Diego Souza, 31, is an odd choice for Brazil given his age, but Tite surely has his reasons.

Luis Suarez will not be present when Uruguay host Brazil later this month in World Cup qualification. The Barcelona number nine is suspended and will sit out this clash between the second- and first-place teams in the table. Uruguay, then, will be without their centre-forward, but so will Brazil. Gabriel Jesus, of course, had his wonderful start with Manchester City interrupted by that metatarsal injury. The teenage striker is practically an emblem of the side under coach Tite, who put together six consecutive victories in last year's qualifiers and turned a high-pressure situation into a stroll towards Russia 2018.

Tite also solved what in recent times has been a problem position for Brazil. For some time now, there's been a debate about what to do with the centre-forward role: should he a traditional target man, a more mobile striker or a false nine? Gabriel Jesus, with five goals and some assists in six games, appeared to have brought closure to the conversation. But in his absence, what happens now?

In the squad Tite announced on Friday, perhaps the strongest like-for-like candidate would be Roberto Firmino of Liverpool. He is a less of a penalty-area operator than Gabriel Jesus, but he is also a forward of clever movement and interesting link-up play.

Another option would be using Neymar in a more centralised role as a false nine, rather than his customary role cutting in from the left. A possible advantage here is that it plays to Brazil's strength: they produce so many top class wide attacking midfielders. It would allow Phillippe Coutinho to swap flanks and fill his favoured position on the left, with Willian returning on the right -- or space could be found for Douglas Costa.

There is a third possibility, tantalisingly left open by Tite's latest squad. Diego Souza of Sport Recife has been called up.

Now 31, Diego Souza began his career as a midfielder but has moved further forward over time. He played at centre-forward in January's friendly against Colombia, when only home-based players were considered. It was the third game in a truncated international career after a substitute appearance in a World Cup qualifier away to Bolivia in 2009 and a friendly against Argentina for home based players in 2011. Souza's career has featured two spells in Europe, too: he was briefly with Benfica of Portugal over a decade ago and more recently spent a season in Ukraine with Metalist Kharkiv.

At Sport, Souza has been in the form of his life. Tite highlighted his statistics from last year's Brazilian Championship (14 goals and six assists), but is this sufficiently convincing? The top scorers list from the Brazilian league reads like a veterans' parade. With so many of the nation's best players abroad, the value of these numbers is of debatable value when discussing World Cup qualification.

There are also doubts for both the short-term and the long. Diego Souza is bulky and not blessed with much pace. Uruguay's centre-backs, Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez, are rugged types who usually prefer physical contact rather than facing the more elusive, mobile strikers.

Does Tite really believe that Diego Souza, who will be 33 by then, is capable of tipping the balance at the next World Cup? If not, then with Brazil as good as qualified, there seems little point of experimenting with a player in this age range.

It's not easy to understand his motives, but Tite clearly knows what he is doing. So far, every choice he has made has turned to gold. Decisions that looked questionable have turned out to be masterstrokes. In Montevideo later this month, we will see whether Brazil's King Midas still has his touch.

Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.


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