Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari has called Premier League standouts Willian and Fernandinho into his squad for next month’s friendly against South Africa in Johannesburg, according to Reuters.
Initially capped by former Selecao boss Mano Menezes, Willian scored his first international goal in November as Brazil thumped Honduras 5-0 in Miami.
That performance, combined with a series of impressive displays for Chelsea, ensured the 25-year-old would retain his place in Scolari’s setup, which also made room for Manchester City midfielder Fernandinho.
A former teammate of Willian’s at Shakhtar Donetsk, the 28-year-old also debuted for Brazil under Menezes but had failed to make Scolari’s shortlist until Tuesday, when the 2002 World Cup winner revealed the 16 Europe-based players who would be facing Bafana Bafana on March 5 in Johannesburg.
Interestingly, Fernandinho was awarded a spot despite a muscle injury that will force him to miss City’s Premier League match against Sunderland on Wednesday as well as Saturday’s FA Cup encounter at home to Chelsea. He’ll also be touch and go for next Tuesday’s Champions League date with Barcelona, but such has been his importance to his club side this term that Scolari could hardly resist his inclusion.
A powerful midfielder despite a diminutive frame, the six-time Ukrainian Premier League champion has partnered with Yaya Toure at City to create one of the more dynamic central midfield tandems in European football.
With an average of four defensive actions per match, according to Squawka, and an eye-popping total of 47 interceptions this season, he possesses the natural instinct that a side with the spontaneity of Brazil simply cannot do without.
To date they’ve received it from Wolfsburg’s Luiz Gustavo, but if either he or Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Paulinho succumb to either injury or loss of form, it will no doubt be Fernandinho who steps in to fill the void.
Willian, meanwhile, might be even closer to Scolari’s starting 11 given his all-around development at Stamford Bridge.
Already a favourite of Blues manager Jose Mourinho, the winger has created more than two scoring chances per match, according to Squawka, and is an expert at the long pass.
But it’s his willingness to track back that has both made him such an asset at Chelsea and hurried the exit of the less-committed Juan Mata.
The prototypical Brazilian attacker is rarely so conscientious on the defensive side of the ball, and given the attacking instincts of the right-backs in the national team, Willian will surely be seen as a safe option against opponents who also fancy their wing play.
Hulk, as it stands, is Scolari’s first-choice forward on the right-hand side of the pitch, but Willian has likely surpassed Shakhtar’s Bernard as the manager’s next-best option.
Of course, the enhanced prominence of Willian and Fernandinho has forced a handful of World Cup hopefuls to the sidelines—among them Liverpool pair Lucas Leiva and Philippe Coutinho and AC Milan attackers Robinho and Kaka.
But even the omitted players will be given consideration before Scolari names his World Cup squad in May.
“I am always observing. There might still be another surprise in the final squad,” the 65-year-old told reporters on Tuesday. “We can never be sure the ones we are going to choose will be in the optimum condition when it comes time to choose our final squad.”
Naturally, the more players experiencing runs of good form over the next few months will create even more selection headaches for Scolari, but the increase of quality depth will only boost Brazil’s chances of winning world football’s biggest prize on home soil in July.