Under Pressure: Can Brazil Live up to Their Lofty Expectations?
With the World Cup edging closer every day, some storylines seem to write themselves. This is the case with the enormous amount of pressure that the host nation Brazil seems to be under.
Brazil, fourth in FIFA’s World Ranking, is the most prolific soccer team in the history of the World Cup. They have won the tournament five times, and have finished in the top four in 10 tournaments. With such a storied history, it’s no wonder why the nation seems to be barreling down on the team, with a win it all or nothing attitude.
In the midst of the team gearing up for the World Cup, the nation seems to be in disarray. Some of the stadiums aren’t finished yet, and there have been open protests against hosting such a lavish event when there's no money for hospitals and education. Never has a World Cup been at the center of so much controversy this close to the opening kickoff. It has left many analysts divided on Brazil’s ability to successfully pull off the World Cup, too.
At the center of all of this lies a team whose task is simple; win the 2014 FIFA World Cup or face an inordinate amount of scrutiny. Leading the team is coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who has previously won a World Cup in 2002, with you guessed it: Brazil. Since then, Scolari has managed a few teams - Portugal and Chelsea amongst others.
But in 2012, Scolari returned to Brazil to manage his native country, to what he hopes is a sixth World Cup. While he was away, there has been shift in soccer dominance, over to European powerhouse Spain - the only major titles Brazil managed to win in Scolari’s absence being the Copa America, which they won twice. (In, 2013 Brazil won the FIFA Confederations Cup with Scolari at the helm.)
In his second stint with the Brazil, Scolari has revamped the national team, with only five players returning to the squad from the 2010 World Cup team that lost in the quarterfinals to the Netherlands. He completely transformed the midfield, leaving off mainstays like Kaka, Robinho and Ronaldinho, opting to pick younger more athletic players such as Oscar, Willian, Luis Gustavo and Ramiers. The remodeling didn’t stop there, with his entire front line being players who have never been to a World Cup. The oldest of the bunch, Fred (30), was looked over in 2010, and playing alongside him you have Hulk (27), a strong runner who has a cannon for a left foot, Bernard (21), a young player who is always looking to take a defender on, and Jo (27), a leggy striker that can stretch the pitch. But the entire country's hopes and dreams seem to have fallen on one man’s shoulders, and that is the 22 year old, Neymar.
After an impressive career at Santos, making 225 appearances and netting 136 goals (most of which are ESPN Top 10 worthy), Neymar made a controversial 57.1 million Euro switch this past summer to Spanish giants, FC Barcelona. Since then, Neymar has been under a ton of scrutiny, as many Barcelona fans expected more out of him in his first season with the club, which ended trophy-less. After enduring such a tumultuous season in Spain, Neymar returns home to play for his national team, under what may be an even bigger microscope.
After being billed as the country’s best product since Ronaldinho, he has big shoes to fill. Ronaldinho combined an enormous amount talent, with the distinctive Brazilian samba flare with what seemed to be little effort. He jumped onto the world stage in the World Cup in 2002, where he dazzled the masses and lead Brazil to the title. He played a key role in the last great Brazilian team, and the fans will expect nothing less from Neymar. Under the pressure this past season in Spain, Neymar seemed to under-perform, as did the entire Barcelona team. It will be captivating to see how he responds now that he is back at home, in front of his fans.
For Neymar, Scolari and the rest of the Brazilian national team, there's some good news in their pursuit of an illustrious sixth FIFA World Cup - history seems to be on their side. Out of the 19 World Cups, the country that hosts the tournament has finished in the top four roughly 63% of the time. Additionally, the host nation has actually won the tournament a combined six times (1930–Uruguay, 1934-Italy, 1966-England, 1974-Germany, 1978-Argentina, and 1998-France). No European team has ever won a World Cup in South America, which is bad news for Spain and Germany, who are generally believed to be Brazils biggest adversaries.
It’s not just history that is boding well for Brazil either. With a 27.09% chance to win the tournament, Brazil is number one in our team rankings. To put that in perspective Argentina, who has the next best chance to win the tournament, comes in at 12.78%. Brazil also has the highest nERD score of any team, at 3.44, which measures overall team efficiency, or the number of goals a team would win by versus an average international squad.
Whatever happens, beginning on June 12th, Brazil will be playing with the entire nation’s hopes and dreams relying on them. It’s not just about winning for the sake of soccer pride; this is about winning for the sake of a country’s unification. A country that is currently divided by this World Cup could end up celebrating in the streets of Brazil, should the host nation win. On the flip side, what happens if they don’t win? What if they fail miserably in their attempt to win? Could these potential celebrations turn into riots?
These unknowns are what the team must deal with on a daily basis during the World Cup. They will undoubtedly hear and see the nation’s reaction as they go through their pursuit of the ultimate prize. This is why Brazil is facing the most pressure perhaps ever experienced by a host nation. Losing is not an option for this team.