No flimflam and no messing around: Why bother naming a pre-list of 35 if you are ready to go straight to the final squad of 23? That is the Brazil way. Twenty years ago, on the day the France ’98 squad was announced, then-coach Mario Zagallo went further; he even announced his starting XI to take on Scotland in the opening game of the World Cup.
Current boss Tite didn’t go that far on Monday afternoon when he announced his squad for Russia. But after the results his team have accumulated, and the manner in which they have been achieved, he could be forgiven a swagger in his stride as he named his chosen 23 players with so much time to spare.
There was little room for surprises, either. How could there be? Tite inherited a side in sixth place, outside the qualification slots, after a third of the campaign. Ten wins and two draws later, with 30 goals scored and three conceded, Brazil hadn’t just cruised their way to Russia — they had established themselves among the tournament favourites and recaptured a significant amount of the self-esteem spilled on the Belo Horizonte pitch in that extraordinary 7-1 semifinal defeat to Germany four years ago.
The players who achieved those results could hardly be left out. Indeed, the vast majority of the squad woke up on Monday morning with their places already publicly guaranteed, but that does not mean that Tite wanted everything carved in stone. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari surely went too far in that direction before the last World Cup and Tite has his own experiences as club coach. After winning the domestic, South American and Club World titles with Corinthians in 2011-12, he admits that he made a mistake by not shaking up the team with some new signings. After all, progress demands a constant dynamic.
So would there be a place for a target man centre-forward, a big figure to help with the aerial assault if Brazil are chasing the game in the final minutes? Tite has flirted with this type of player, but in the end resisted the temptation to call up Willian Jose, who was in the squad for the recent friendlies but didn’t get a chance to play. Taison, a striker sufficiently versatile to play through the middle or up front, was preferred.
The full-back positions also came under the microscope. Tite admitted that one of his hardest decisions was to leave out Alex Sandro as a backup to Marcelo at left-back. Filipe Luis of Atletico Madrid got the nod once he convinced the coaching staff of his recovery from a recent injury, which could well have been the news Tite was waiting for until a half-hour before the call-up in order to complete the list. But that news could also have been about Fagner, one of the candidates to replace the injured Dani Alves at right-back.
The loss of Alves is a serious blow as Brazil seem to lack a replacement of similar quality. Indeed, there was plenty of speculation over who would fill the reserve right-back slot, a quandary that has taken on much more importance since Alves picked up his knee injury.
There were three candidates for the two right-back slots. Rafinha of Bayern Munich missed out. Danilo of Manchester City goes into the pre-tournament camp with a slight advantage over Fagner of Corinthians, not least because the latter is currently recovering from an injury of his own.
In a squad dominated by Europe-based players — 19 make their living in England, Spain, Italy, France and Ukraine — Fagner is one of just three who remain in Brazilian football. The others are third-choice keeper Cassio, who is unlikely to play, and Pedro Geromel of Gremio, who claimed the last centre-back slot.
Ultimately, this is a popular decision. The local market love seeing domestically based players and the local media are always pushing for their inclusion. That said, Geromel starts out well behind the trio of Marquinhos, Thiago Silva and Miranda; Tite makes it clear that he has “a good headache” trying to pick two from these three. The strong possibility, then, is that the starting lineup will be entirely composed of Europe-based players, though midfielder Renato Augusto, who plays in China, will strive hard to win back the place that was his until the past few months.
From a tactical point of view, there is much that is contemporary and European about the current Brazil side. Tite has conducted an in-depth study of top-class European football and the main idea he has brought to Brazil is that of the team acting in a compact manner both to ensure defensive solidity and to have players close enough for a passing game.
It was this idea — being compact with the ball as a reference — that Tite was eager to stress in his news conference. And the combination of Brazilian ability with modern tactical concepts has Brazil building confidently in their quest to bring the World Cup trophy back from Russia.
Brazil squad for 2018 World Cup
Goalkeepers: Alisson (Roma), Ederson (Manchester City), Cassio (Corinthians)
Defenders: Miranda (Inter Milan), Marquinhos (Paris Saint-Germain), Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain), Geromel (Gremio), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Fagner (Corinthians), Danilo (Manchester City), Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid)
Midfielders: Casemiro (Real Madrid), Fernandinho (Manchester City), Paulinho (Barcelona), Renato Augusto (Beijing Guoan), Philippe Coutinho (Barcelona), Willian (Chelsea), Fred (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Forwards: Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain), Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City), Firmino (Liverpool), Taison (Shakhtar Donetsk), Douglas Costa (Juventus)
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.