The Brazilian national team will play two friendlies in Brazil over the next week. First, on Saturday in Goiânia, a rematch of the quarter-final game with Holland that ended Brazil’s campaign in last year’s World Cup. And then on the following Tuessday, Ronaldo’s farewell game, against Romania, held at the Pacaembu stadium in São Paulo.
On the 19th of May, Brazil coach Mano Menezes announced the roster for those games and gave us a decent idea of the team he’ll use for the upcoming Copa América in Argentina. The list includes 28 players for the two friendlies, plus Ronaldo, who will only play for some part of the first half of the second friendly. The plan is for Ronaldo not to be a starter in that game, but to come on as a substitute some time before the first half ends. There will be some kind of celebration at halftime, and then Ronaldo’s time with the Seleção will be over. Another player will take his place in the second half of the Romania friendly, and the Seleção’s post-Ronaldo era will officially begin.
Asked about the former star striker’s physical condition and preparation for the friendly against Romania, Menezes asked for understanding of Ronaldo’s condition, especially because since the end of his career, officially ended on the 14th of February, Ronaldo has relaxed a bit (more) in his efforts to reduce his weight. It was revealed around the time of his retirement that Ronaldo has a thyroid disorder, and that has been contributing a lot to his weight problems.
“I won’t ask for any kind of special care for him,” Menezes said. “Ronaldo has a clear idea of what this game means to him. We won’t be able to do in this short time (before the farewell game, and after months of retirement) what we already had difficulty doing before. We have to be understanding. This is not the time to be demanding; it’s the time for affection in living with him in his last hours as a Brazilian national team player.”
Menezes, who was Ronaldo’s coach when Ronaldo won the last two titles in his career (the São Paulo state championship and the Copa do Brasil of 2009), considers himself privileged for having followed the final stretch of the “Phenomenon’s” career. And also for being the national team coach for Ronaldo’s farewell. But he never imagined it this way.
“Honestly, I never imagined working with Ronaldo,” said Menezes. “The greatness of soccer, in certain moments, leaves us far from certain players. But soccer is also fast enough to give us these chances. It will be a great pleasure to participate in this farewell.”
As a member of the Brazilian national team, Ronaldo participated in four World Cups (1994, 1998, 2002, and 2006). He was champion twice: in ’94 as a reserve and in 2002 as a starter. He is the highest scorer in the history of World Cups with 15 goals. If any readers are too young (or too “young” in soccer terms because of the still-limited coverage of soccer in the US) to remember Ronaldo during his triumphant comeback in 2002 or, even better, the first peak in his career when he was voted the best in the world twice in a row for seasons during which he was 18-20 years old, and you can’t quite figure out why the CBF (Brazilian Soccer Confederation) is giving an old, fat player time on the field during a national team game, plus a going-away party, I recommend going to check out his list of personal accomplishments in the Wikipedia article about him.
After the Brazil-Romania game, Menezes will cut six players (plus Ronaldo, of course) to arrive at his final list for Copa América. Brazil debuts in Copa América on the 3rd of July against Venezuela in La Plata.
“We decided to make a list with 28 names for rule-related reasons,” said Menezes. “We have to make it official for the clubs 14 days before. We would have had to announce the list on the 2nd of June, which would cause certain problems. We announced the list earlier, but a list of 28. After the second game, we’ll call 22 players for Copa América, with one possibility that isn’t on the list (for the two friendlies): Paulo Henrique Ganso. He had an injury and we want to have a little more time to make that decision.”
Alexandre Pato’s shoulder injury at the end of the Italian Serie A season has further complicated the decisions to be made before Copa América. The Brazilian team’s medical staff had already said it was too early to say Pato couldn’t play in Copa América, but he is also still not on the final list. On Thursday, José Luiz Runco, the head of the Seleção’s medical staff, said Pato is recuperating well and has a very good chance of being able to play in Copa América, which is good news, of course. On the other hand, Runco avoided talking about Ganso, which can’t be a good thing. He did say he would talk to the Santos medical staff, but if I had to bet now, it would be on Ganso missing Copa América. That’s bad, but on the plus side, it gives Mano a chance to test other playmakers and try to find other good options. Brazil’s World Cup 2010 campaign shows the danger of relying too much on any one player. And Kaká was a much more established player at that time than Ganso is now, having had success in Brazil and Europe, and having even been voted best in the world once. I still see Ganso as unproven. This puts me in a small minority in Brazil, where everyone seemed to think Dunga was crazy for not taking Ganso to WC2010, even though Ganso needed knee surgery at the time.
All the players on the list of 28 have been on Seleção rosters before. However, three players had never been called by Mano Menezes before: Fred, Thiago Neves, and Fábio. Fred’s experience includes his presence as a reserve on the 2006 World Cup team. Given the near-uselessness of both Ronaldo and Adriano in that competition, “backup forward” turned out to be a pretty important position. It could have been even more important if Parreira hadn’t stubbornly insisted on compounding his roster construction mistakes by playing Ronaldo and Adriano so much. It’s unbelievable, but these were not even Parreira’s worst roster decisions in 2006. Leaving Nilmar off the roster (see below, under “Forwards”) was a bad one too, closely related to these, but still not the worst. The worst, of course, was the presence of Roberto Carlos, who was not only wasting a roster spot, but also starting, for cryin’ out loud. France took advantage of that and made the final. The Seleção was home in time to watch the semis on TV. Thanks, RC and Parreira! I’ll never
forgive… er… forget what you did!
Here is the list of non-Ronaldo players called for the friendlies against Holland and Romania.
Julio César (Internazionale)
As noted above, this is Fábio’s first time playing for Mano, but there are no surprises here. All four have been called for the Seleção before. Júlio César is one of my favorite players. Holland’s second goal against Brazil in the WC2010 quarter-final was Júlio’s fault, but I still insist that he is the best goalie Brazil ever took to a World Cup, even if he didn’t have the best World Cup campaign a Brazilian goalie has ever had. It’s nice that Brazil has other viable (and younger) choices, but I have to confess that I’d love to see Júlio achieve redemption and get to hold the World Cup trophy as champion.
Daniel Alves (Barcelona)
André Santos (Fenerbahçe)
No surprises here either. I’d like to see some other left wingbacks get some more playing time, but Menezes really seems to trust André Santos and think that he’s got the right style of play for what Mano wants the position to be on this team. I’m pretty sure Mano thinks André is the best complement to Dani Alves, who appears to be Mano’s guy at right wingback.
That brings us to what is shaping up as one of the most interesting positions on the Seleção. Daniel Alves is probably the best Brazilian playing now, but as recently as a year ago, he was only the second-best Brazilian player at his position. I don’t think Maicon is done, and I think the “controversy” (competition) at this position will be really interesting to watch.
Thiago Silva (Milan)
David Luiz (Chelsea)
Thiago Silva and David Luiz appear to be pretty secure as Mano’s starters, replacing with surprising stability a pair (Lúcio and Juan) that was amazingly stable for years, especially for Brazilian center backs. Lúcio can still be useful, especially as a reserve. He and Luisão are among several potential decent choices as backups at this surprisingly deep position, which has become one of the strengths of the Seleção.
Lucas Leiva (Liverpool)
Anderson (Manchester United)
No surprises here either. Menezes seems to trust Lucas Leiva (“the Liverpool Lucas”) the way he trusts André Santos (see above, under “Wingbacks”) and Elias (see below, under “Meias“). Ramires was really the big “find” of the Dunga era on the national team. I still believe that one of the main reasons Brazil lost to Holland in last year’s World Cup is because even though the team had found the “winning formula” against Chile, it was unable to play that way against Holland because Ramires got a yellow card against Chile that led to an automatic suspension against Holland. As a result, Felipe Melo and his time bomb temper were in there. In all fairness to Felipe, he did send the unbelievably sweet ball through the Dutch defense to Robinho, leading to the one of Robinho’s two legitimate goals in that game that the officials decided to accept. They disallowed the other on a phantom offside violation.
At any given time, in addition to a couple of obvious choices, there is a handful of players who could bring something useful to this position for the Brazilian team. Note: I don’t translate “volante” as “defensive midfielder” because of the importance of players like Ramires to the offense and because of the existence of primarily offensive volantes like Juninho Pernambucano used to be.
Elias (Atlético Madrid)
Lucas (São Paulo)
Thiago Neves (Flamengo)
Jadson (Shakhtar Donetsk)
There are no surprises here either. Jádson had already gotten a couple of looks from Mano, and Lucas was the big revelation of the South American U20 championship in which Brazil managed to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. There are rumors this week that Beşiktaş has given up on getting Diego Forlán, which would seem like good news for SPFC (DAMN THEM!), except that there are also rumors that Beşiktaş is instead focusing on Lucas.
For some reason, folks in Turkey are referring to Lucas as “the new Robinho.”
Elano’s injury against the Ivory Coast in World Cup 2010 made finding the “winning formula” (mentioned above under “Volantes“) harder because of all that he could bring to the team, especially with Kaká obviously still nowhere near being in shape to be a starter on a Brazilian World Cup team.
Elias was an important part of the successful Corinthians teams under Mano, and he is likely to have Mano’s confidence for some time.
Alexandre Pato (Milan)
Leandro Damião (Internacional)
No real surprises here either. Fred was an important part of the Fluminense team that won the Brazilian Championship last year (and never mind that Flu still doesn’t belong in the Brazilian first division, never having legitimately gained access from the second, where it should have played in 2000). There was an article up on GloboEsporte Thursday saying Fred returns to the Seleção motivated to show what he can do, not having been called since 2007. He hopes that his performance in practices and the friendlies will convince Mano to keep him on the roster for Copa América.
Nilmar has been one of the best Brazilian forwards for a good 5 years now. He shouuld have been a starter on the 2006 team, and neither Ronaldo nor Adriano should have been on the team. Instead, Nilmar stayed home from the 2006 World Cup and, like most of us, watched Brazil’s humiliation by France in the quarter-finals of that competition.
Pato, Neymar, and Robinho are probably the trio most likely to start (at this point) if Mano does go with a 4-3-3 scheme in World Cup 2014. Sure, a lot can happen between now and then, but as of now, these would be three of the first names out of the mouth of just about any Brazilian when asked about the 2014 World Cup team. As mentioned previously, Pato’s injury might keep him out of the friendlies and off the Copa América squad.
While the news stories here about delays in the World Cup preparations are nearly constant now (for example, the cover of a Brazilian weekly news magazine told us last week that if the remodeling of the Maracanã continues at the same pace, it will be ready to open in 2038), there really hasn’t been much mention in the media of where the seleção is and how it’s developing. I’m personally worried, because the CBF has not done a great job of lining up friendlies against good opponents, the team has disappointed against mediocre ones and lost to the two traditionally strong teams it has faced (France and Argentina). The situation is only exacerbated by the fact that Brazil does not have the grueling South American quali campaign to help work the kinks out of the developing team. I’m not convinced anyone has a plan for what to do if Ganso doesn’t come back, comes back and isn’t the same player, or comes back but continues to have injury problems that slow his development and keep him from being the great player it does look like he could be.
I had originally written this post a couple of days ago, but technical problems kept me from posting it, and that allowed me to read about Júlio César expressing on Thursday a thought very similar to mine about the strength of opponents the seleção should face between now and WC2014. Here is what he said: “We have to think about playing a good game, because the Seleção will have little time to prepare for the World Cup and we don’t have the qualifiers. This makes the coaching staff’s job harder. And in this process, it’s good to face strong national teams. It’s a good test for us, a good opportunity to be observed.”
Additionally, the CBF’s communications director, Rodrigo Paiva, said on Thursday that the CBF has officially requested permission from FIFA to hold more Seleção games in Brazil than the rules currently allow. Excluding tournaments like the WC qualis and Copa América, Brazil (or any South American country) is allowed to play one game per year in South America. The reason for the rule is because of the large number of national team players who play for clubs in Europe. But since all the other teams in South America will have the World Cup qualifying campaign, the CBF wants Brazil to be able to host more games as it prepares for World Cup 2014.
Most of the news in this post and all the quotes are translated from articles at GloboEsporte.com