Luiz Felipe Scolari’s decision to return as manager of Brazil last November was heralded by fans as the turning point that would rejuvenate the national team. For many of the country’s supporters, the 2-1 defeat to England last week was a reminder of the challenge that lies ahead.
As hosts of the next World Cup, Brazilians expect Scolari to replicate his achievement in 2002 and lead the team to victory. However, the fans’ belief that the team will win a record sixth World Cup overlooks the paucity of world class players available to Scolari. In South Korea 11 years ago the 64-year-old overcame Brazil’s defensive frailties by calling upon three attacking legends of the game: Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho. Next year the attacking burden will fall predominantly on Neymar’s slender shoulders, who for all his promise, remains unproven against European opposition.
The beleaguered state of Brazilian football is demonstrated by their current world ranking of 18th. If Scolari is to beat the odds by winning the World Cup, he must quickly close the gaping chasm that exists between Brazil and reigning champions Spain. Although Brazil doesn’t have the pressure of needing to qualify for the tournament, the side faces a challenging fixture list that sees them face higher ranked nations in seven of their next nine matches. Time is running out if Brazil are to repeat past glories.