Brazil have more reason than most to be desperate for this tournament to start as they bid to avenge what happened against Germany in Belo Horizonte four years ago. Brazilian football fans may never forget that miserable night but a sixth World Cup crown would go a fair way to easing the pain.
As far as coach Tite is concerned, he will probably be more measured in his thoughts and for now at least will be thinking about a couple of warm-up games and how he is going to nurse his star player Neymar back to fitness.
Here is Brazil’s potential path to a historic sixth title:
Warm Up Friendlies
3rd June – Brazil vs Croatia (Liverpool)
Merseyside is the unlikely setting for the start of Brazil’s road to Russia although with current Red Roberto Firmino in their ranks, they should get a warm reception in Liverpool. It will also see Philippe Coutinho return to Anfield for the first time since his January move and it ought to be a genuine test for Brazil against a talented Croatian side that arguably has more midfield quality than the South Americans. All eyes will inevitably be on Neymar though as we get the first indication of how his battle for fitness is going. If the PSG forward doesn’t feature at all, it would suggest he is a major doubt for the start of the tournament itself.
10th June – Austria vs Brazil (Vienna)
Austria will be Brazil’s final test before the World Cup starts. Their decision to only play two warm-up games suggests they are pretty happy with where they are at and that’s no surprise given their dominant qualifying record. On paper, it’s a game Brazil should win and Tite will clearly see it as good preparation for a much bigger game against Austria’s neighbours Switzerland the following weekend.
World Cup Group Stages
17th June – Brazil vs Switzerland (Rostov)
While as a seeded team Brazil could have got an easier group when the draw was made, they will still feel as though Group E is easily negotiable. Switzerland could be awkward first opponents though, particularly given this will be Neymar’s first competitive match in four months and their talisman could be a bit short on match sharpness. There will also be a few nerves given recent tournament failures and it’s important Brazil lay down a marker early on to show the rest of the world that they mean business in Russia and are no longer the soft touch they were four or even two years ago when they exited Copa America at the group stage.
Switzerland will be looking to 2010 for inspiration when they caused a huge shock by beating Spain in their opening match. Of course things didn’t go too badly for Vicente del Bosque’s side after that but it certainly serves as a warning to Brazil that a Swiss side, which won 9 of their 10 group games in qualifying, can’t be underestimated.
From a logistical point of view, they will be happy to playing their first game in Rostov, which isn’t far from their base in Sochi and it’ll be a gentle introduction into the travelling that will be involved in this tournament with longer trips necessary for their next two games.
22nd June – Brazil vs Costa Rica (St Petersburg)
Brazil’s last game against CONCACAF opposition was a 7-1 win over Haiti at Copa America 2016 and it’s noticeable how their preparations have focused on friendlies against European sides, who have knocked them out of the last three World Cups.
Costa Rica are bidding to repeat their surprise run to the last eight in Brazil four years ago. Their squad has changed little since and it’s one of the most experienced to be heading to Russia. 10 players have been capped 50 or more times and again they can’t afford to be underestimated. They are likely to play very defensively, which was their blueprint for success at the 2014 World Cup, when they avoided defeat inside 90 minutes against the likes of England, Italy, Uruguay and the Netherlands.
Brazil will need patience in this one but they have enough players capable of producing individual moments of magic to break down stubborn Central American opposition.
27th June – Serbia vs Brazil (Moscow)
If all goes to plan, Brazil will have six points on the board by this point and will most likely be guaranteed a place in the next round. That would be the dream scenario for Tite as he will be keen to rest a few players given Serbia are a physical side that won’t lie down without a fight.
However Brazil will still be very keen to win the group as whoever ends up 2nd in this one will most likely have to play defending champions Germany in the next round. While they will be keen to inflict revenge on the Germans, they would be planning on that reunion happening at a slightly later date than the last sixteen.
World Cup Knockout Rounds
2nd July – Brazil vs Mexico (Samara)
While all their opening stage matches will present their own challenge, Brazil should still win their group and that would set-up a last sixteen clash with the runners-up from Group F. There’s a strong chance that would be Mexico and you sense Brazil would be more than content if that is the case.
The Mexicans are a side that have progressed from the group stage at each of the last six World Cups, only to fall in the Round of 16 on each occasion. It has become a real mental barrier that will be on the minds of the Mexican players and it’s hard to see Brazil not passing this kind of test, against fellow Latin American opposition.
6th July – Brazil vs Belgium (Kazan)
A Quarter-Final date in Kazan would put Brazil on course to most likely meet the winners of Group G, which is most likely to be Belgium, although England fans will be hoping otherwise. Either way, it could be a good omen for Brazil. They beat both the Belgians and England in the knockout stages en route to winning the 2002 World Cup, the most recent of their five titles.
However certainly Belgium would be a step up in class on everything Brazil had faced up until that point. The likes of Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku would give this much improved Brazilian defence, its sternest competitive workout since the appointment of Tite sparked a change in their fortunes.
While it would clearly be a tough test, this golden Belgian generation clearly has a few demons of their own and is yet to progress past the last eight of a major tournament. Brazil would certainly go into the game as favourites and would fancy their chances of reaching the last four.
10th July – Brazil vs France (Saint Petersburg)
This would be the point when life starts to get really tough for Brazil and they would most likely face one of the traditional European powerhouses in competitive action for the first time since heavy defeats to Germany and the Netherlands in the Semi-Final and 3rd place play-off at the 2014 World Cup.
From a neutral perspective the prospect of a Brazil-France Semi-Final would be a tasty one but history at least favours the French. They’ve won all of the last three World Cup meetings between the sides, knocking Brazil out in 1986 and 2006 while of course they famously won the Final in Paris in 1998.
This Brazilian side is made of stern stuff though with 15 wins and just 1 defeat in 19 games so far under Tite. They’ve also won the last two friendlies against France and might fancy they can write a new and much happier chapter in their relationship with Les Bleus by emerging victorious should the sides end up locking horns in the last four.
15th July – Brazil vs Spain (Moscow)
Clearly a dodgy day in the group stage, not to mention a knockout round defeat could knock Brazil’s path for a 6th World Cup title off course but all roads lead to Moscow and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that they will end up facing Spain in the Final in mid-July.
Were Spain to get this far, they’d be suddenly really believing that their recent disappointments were behind them and they do have a 100% record in major finals this century so it would be a really tough game for Brazil. By this point Neymar should at least be back to optimum levels of fitness and as a former Barcelona player who could be heading to Real Madrid this summer, that would certainly provide a very interesting subplot to any Brazil-Spain clash in Russia.
On the other side, Spain could potentially line up with Brazilian-born Diego Costa, a player who made the surprising decision to turn down the chance to play for his homeland in favour of a nation where he isn’t universally loved. His popularity would increase a fair bit were he to end up scoring a World Cup winning goal though but it’s safe to say he probably wouldn’t be welcome back in his native Brazil anytime soon.
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