Brazil usher in new era as Tite preps Selecao for next summer's Copa America
Brazil coach Tite confessed that after his country's World Cup elimination he went for his daily walk along the Rio de Janeiro beach "at 6 in the morning, because there was no one else around." With time, sensing a more positive response from the streets, he started out later, no longer afraid of an angry reaction.
But the quarterfinal elimination to Belgium still hurts.
"I went mad because we didn't go further in the World Cup," he confessed. "I've been waking up at 2 in the morning to head the ball along with Roberto Firmino, shoot with Gabriel Jesus and try and take the arm of [Thiabut] Courtois out of the way!"
As Tite called up his first post-World Cup squad for games next month against the U.S. and El Salvador, the local press were still in the mood for a postmortem. What mistakes were made? Was Sochi the right choice of base? Did the players have the correct amount of access to their families?
The coach, though, has to look beyond. This is a new phase for the national team, and it is a little different from that of the other South American sides.
The others will spend a few months playing friendlies and then use next June's Copa America as a laboratory to prepare a side for the next set of World Cup qualifiers. Brazil, though, are hosting the Copa America. As such, they have a near obligation to win, especially as their record in recent tournaments is so disappointing: in three World Cups and three Copa Americas, they have only once reached the semifinals, with a result that no football fan is likely to forget in a hurry.
Tite, then, has to think about the long term, about building a team for Qatar 2022. But for reasons of his own job security, he also needs to have a side ready for June 2019. This places a limit on the amount of change he can make. Of the 23 who went to the World Cup, 13 have kept their places; it would have been 14 had Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson not cited personal reasons to be left out of this squad.
Three of the survivors from Russia might be thought of as a surprise: Willian, especially given the options that Brazil have in wide positions; left-back Filipe Luis, who is already 33; and injury-prone midfielder Renato Augusto, which may be seen as an admission that Brazil should have made more use of him during the World Cup.
Two of the absences also raise an eyebrow: Marcelo of Real Madrid, which given the inclusion of Filipe Luis cannot be on age grounds; and the striker seen as a symbol of Tite's time in charge, Man City's Jesus.
The side's top scorer under Tite, Jesus had a disappointing World Cup, where Brazil perhaps suffered from a lack of penalty-area presence. Young Pedro of Fluminense is one of the most interesting newcomers, considering he is more of a target-man centre-forward, though with more mobility than most of his type.
If centre-forward has become something of a problem position, then so has right-back. Fagner of Corinthians retains his place, but with Danilo of Manchester City still injured, there is a shock recall for Liverpool's Fabinho, who has not played in the position for several seasons. Tite consulted the player, now a midfielder, and Fabinho declared himself up to the task, though his role will be one of constructing the play from deep more than flying up the wing.
The most fascinating area of the new squad is central midfield. In a World Cup of Paul Pogba, Luka Modric and Kevin De Bruyne, Brazil lacked something in this key zone. Arthur, already looking comfortable in a Barcelona shirt, is the great hope. Also called up are Flamengo's raw but promising Lucas Paqueta and Manchester United's Andreas Pereira, who is also wanted by Belgium. If Brazil can assure themselves of his services, then perhaps Tite can look upon it as partial revenge for that painful World Cup defeat.