Brazil limped away from the Russia 2018 World Cup with a clear short-term objective: They had to win the Copa America on home soil. That mission has been accomplished. Coach Tite confessed that he lived in anguish about the World Cup quarterfinal elimination by Belgium, waking up in the middle of the night with the game playing in his head. Winning the Copa last month has changed that.
"Victory has left me in peace," he said as he announced the squad for the coming trip to the United States. Brazil face Colombia in Miami on Sept. 6 and Peru in Los Angeles four days later, and this is the moment when Brazil start out on the road to the next World Cup. The priority is now long term, with three years to build for Qatar 2022.
Therefore it's no surprise that the veterans are slowly being pushed out of the picture. Centre-back Miranda, left-back Filipe Luis, midfielder Fernandinho and winger Willian are all over 30 and have now been gently eased out of contention. Thiago Silva remains, for now, but the thinking is that he will gradually lose his place at the heart of the defence and new Real Madrid signing Eder Militao will be Marquinhos' partner in the middle.
The only two players 30 or older are at right-back and there are a few reasons for this. One is that the team captain and outstanding player of the Copa America is Daniel Alves, 36, who has just moved back to Brazil and is keen to keep himself in contention for the next World Cup. Another reason is that after a glut of options in the position, Brazil suddenly find themselves without too many viable choices.
Finally, there's the issue of the domestic calendar. These FIFA dates coincide with the final of the prestigious Brazilian Cup. Still in contention are four giant clubs: Gremio, Internacional, Athletico Paranaense and Cruzeiro. Tite has opted not to call up any players from these teams, meaning that he loses the opportunity to test Gremio's Leonardo Gomes. It also means that Gomes' teammate, left winger Everton, has also been left out; thanks to the schedule, there is no place in this Brazil squad for the hero and joint-top scorer of the Copa America.
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Yet there is a place for Neymar. Brazil's No. 10 has not been in action since picking up an injury in a warm-up friendly against Qatar at the start of June. No one knows when and where he will next take the field in club football, with his future at Paris Saint-Germain still uncertain, but Tite felt that it was important to bring him straight back into the squad, describing him as "indispensable" when it comes to the national team.
So where will Neymar play? There's a strong suspicion that Brazil would like to try him out in a central role, linking up with Roberto Firmino in that high-traffic area of the pitch. In this attacking formation, Richarlison would operate wide right in the role he lost during the Copa to Gabriel Jesus, who is now suspended. Philippe Coutinho could stay in the team as a consequence of Everton's absence, moving to the left flank, or Tite could opt for the express pace of Vinicius Junior.
Either way, this would make for an extremely fluid and attractive front four, though one that might leave a big question to be answered. Would such a lineup be too open for the knockout stages of a World Cup? It would place huge defensive responsibility on the shoulders of Arthur and Casemiro in midfield, and could that leave too much room for players of the quality of Eden Hazard?
Coach Tite might be in peace after the Copa victory, but he's acutely aware that the win last month has bought him some time to prepare for the big one, and over the past few years, that has always meant colliding with a top European team in the World Cup. On the road to Qatar, he will surely find himself going over that game against Belgium a few more times, trying to work out how it can have a different ending in 2022.
Brazil squad to face Colombia and Peru
Defenders: Daniel Alves (Sao Paulo), Fagner (Corinthians), Alex Sandro (Juventus), Jorge (Santos), Marquinhos (Paris Saint-Germain), Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain), Eder Militao (Real Madrid), Samir (Udinese)