Whenever the current Brazilian national team is mentioned, whether it be in conversation or for discussion in debate on a website or in a magazine, they are usually adorned by the same image: Neymar. He is of course an excellent player, someone with the potential to be world class in the years to come.
But whilst coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has succeeded in adding an attacking verve to the team’s style of play, his side is still very much built on the solid foundations left by predecessors Dunga and Mano Menezes. That is to say, a rock-solid defence built around the talents of captain Thiago Silva.
For Scolari, his back four picks itself. Daniel Alves and Marcelo will patrol the flanks, with Thiago Silva and David Luiz holding court in the centre. And with Luiz prone to attacking jaunts further up the field, Silva has become the rock around which Brazil’s defensive solidity is based.
Brazil kept three clean sheets during their Confederations Cup triumph last June, and a reliable back line will be of equal importance this year. At 29, this World Cup comes at the perfect time for Silva physically; he will never be in better shape to lead his country to World Cup glory, and the fact it is on home soil will make that feat all the more poignant.
As Tim Vickery indicates in his latest BBC Sport column, whilst Neymar remains replaceable, Brazil would suffer greatly were Silva to miss out. As captain and leader of the next generation to emerge from Brazil, his experience of playing at the highest domestic level, with AC Milan and later Paris Saint-Germain in the UEFA Champions League, gives him the right mental preparation and experience for the enormous challenge he faces this summer.
His standing in Europe is of the highest order; he has reportedly turned down Barcelona on more than one occasion. But winning the World Cup as Brazil captain would mark him out as a true great of the modern era.
At the turn of the year, he was named the Samba Gold winner for the third consecutive year, as reported by Paul Gorst of The Daily Mirror. The award is given to the best Brazilian playing in Europe, and has previously been won by the likes of Kaka and Luis Fabiano.
The majority of the Brazil squad who will be at the FIFA World Cup later this year are plying their trade in Europe. Daniel Alves, Marcelo, Neymar and Oscar are all at clubs with genuine aspirations of landing trophies. For Thiago Silva to be picked out as the best amongst his compatriots, not only once but on three successive occasions, speaks volumes of his ability and the prestige in which he is held within world football.
At club level he has won trophies in Brazil, Italy and France, including league titles in Milan and Paris. On the international stage, the World Cup would be the cherry on the cake.
But it is not all about Silva adding to his impressive trophy haul. From a team perspective, Brazil are immeasurably weaker without him in the line-up.
Behind Silva and Luiz in the defensive pecking order is Bayern Munich centre-half Dante. Beyond these three, judging by recent squad call-ups, Scolari is unsure of the fourth central defender for his 23-man World Cup squad.
Thiago Silva’s PSG team-mate, Marquinhos, Cruzeiro’s Dede and Rever of Atletico Mineiro are all vying for that final spot. But none are cut from the same cloth as Silva.
Over recent years, Brazil have been blessed with some exceptional defenders. The old adage of the Selecao being a tactically naïve, gung-ho attacking force is a lazy stereotype.
Players such as Aldair and Lucio were stalwarts in their day, ready to lead from the back and unassumingly taking on the mantle of answering the prayers of 170 million supporters at home. In Thiago Silva, Brazil have found the next in a succession of leaders.
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