Six changes the Selecao must make
Few people dare to think how much of an impact it would have if Brazil fell early during their second stint as World Cup host. It might be a bit early to entertain those thoughts, though. Even after their disappointing, goalless draw in Fortaleza against Mexico, the Selecao could still go through with a defeat of an already eliminated Cameroon side on Monday in Brasilia.
But Neymar and Co. still have to shape up big time if they want to keep alive their dream of the "hexa," their sixth World Cup title. Here we lay down six changes the Selecao need to make sooner rather than later.
1) Drop. Fred. Now.
There is no sugarcoating here. Football is momentum, and Fred's five Confederations Cup goals last year are a memory fading faster than Ryan Reynolds' hairline. Although it would be a bit mean to pin all the Selecao's problems on their misfiring No. 9, the stats are blatantly clear: if Fred (who is still likely to be picked up for the game) once again fails to score, he will become Brazil's worst center-forward in World Cup history. No Selecao No. 9 has ever failed to score in the group stages.
Jaded and lacking confidence, Fred has only amassed two shots in two games, and his best move was the dive for that controversial penalty against Croatia in their Group A opener.
2) Bring in Fernandinho
That sounds less negative than simply asking for Paulinho to be dropped, but he's one of the reasons the Selecao have failed to emulate their high-tempo and high-pressure combination from last year. While Fernandinho is a newcomer to this group and only played in a friendly against South Africa earlier this year, his season was much stronger and he looks much fresher than his Tottenham counterpart.
Unlike what happens at Manchester City, where he and Yaya Toure have to worry about whose turn it is to go forward, in Luiz Gustavo, Fernandinho would find almost a third defender, which could free him to join the action more readily in attack.
3) Play Neymar on the left
It's his favorite side of the pitch. It's been proved relentlessly with any side he has even represented. So it remains a mystery why Big Phil Scolari still relocates him to other areas of the pitch on a regular basis. Playing in the center makes Neymar more predictable and easier to defend. Although some will point out the Barcelona man was roaming on the right when he scored the equalizer against Croatia, that was more the result of a break than a carefully built move. With space and quality pass, Neymar can't be touched if he accelerates down the left flank.
4) Dust up the wings
The return of Hulk to the Selecao starting lineup could help Brazil use the flanks again. Against Croatia and Mexico, the team indeed put plenty of crosses in the box, but from positions and angles that allowed defenders to clear the danger quite easily. The sweet exception was Dani Alves' peach of a ball from a Neymar header, only for Mexican goalie Guillermo Ochoa to keep it out with a save that must have made Gordon Banks purr. Besides, the use of the flanks can open precious spaces for the team in the middle.
5) Shoot, for goodness sake
As we have seen so often with Spain recently, trying to walk the ball in will most likely end in frustration, thanks to the opposition's crowding of any free space. Brazil have to shoot more, and Scolari himself said so after witnessing Dani Alves hesitate for what looked like hours in a counterattack against Mexico. There are good shooters in this team, and they should use them rather than expect they will be able to dribble past parked buses.
6) Speed it up
Besides their bullying of the opposition without the ball, Brazil impressed last year with how fast their transition from defense to attack could be. That pace has been missing so far in the World Cup, and Brazil need it badly if they want to beat the unavoidable scenario in which opposition are unlikely to "play with the whites" against them.
Fernando Duarte is a U.K.-based Brazilian football expert who has reported on the Selecao for over a decade. Follow him on Twitter @Fernando_Duarte.