COMMENTARY | The issue of Neymar and Paulinho going to Europe is complicated. As individuals and players, they have earned their opportunities to accumulate financial wealth and play in the best football leagues on the planet, which just so happen to be in Europe. However, Brazil will no longer be able to include these two emerging stars as part of its core contingent of domestic-based players.
Neymar, who jets to Barcelona following his post-tournament celebrations, completed his last season with Santos. Paulinho appears to be mirroring Neymar's path to Europe, with Tottenham expected to complete a transfer shortly. If Paulinho leaves Corinthians, the only remaining domestic player in Brazil's starting 11 would be Fred. Fred remained at Fluminense at last check--unless a European club recently decided it wanted a striker that was able to beat Iker Casillas twice in a final, one of those times while the Brazilian was on his belly.
Before the importance of the domestic players in the squad is brushed aside, one must consider that the aforementioned trio easily featured Brazil's top performers during the tournament--honorable mentions to Luiz Gustavo and Julio Cesar. Statistically, Neymar, Fred, and Paulinho scored 11 of Brazil's 14 goals in the 2013 Confederations Cup. The threesome averaged more than two goals per match and scored all three goals in the final.
Further, Jo, the former Manchester City striker, scored two goals as a substitute during the group stages. With Jo currently practicing his profession with Atletico Mineiro, 13 of Brazil's 14 goals during the Confederations Cup were put in by Brazilians who played football domestically last season. The only Brazilian goal scored by a European-based player was Dante's offside goal against Italy.
The Confederations Cup took place in Brazil and was a test run for next year's World Cup. Initial data would suggest that players who play club football in Brazil perform for the national team in Brazil.
Luiz Felipe Scolari, Brazil's manager, chose Fred, Paulinho, and Neymar as the only domestic starters in his 2013 Confederations Cup squad, and all three fulfilled the role of embracing, engaging, and exciting the domestic crowds. With two of the three expected to play in Europe next season, Scolari must make a conscious decision to either trust the European-based players to perform in a year's time or mix up the magic formula and bring in some new domestic talents.
Considering the success of this summer's Confederations Cup, one would imagine Scolari intends to call on the same group to perform for Brazil in the 2014 World Cup.
At striker, Fred was hovering behind Leandro Damiao for some time, and Damiao's untimely leg injury ahead of the tournament provided Fred an unchallenged opportunity. With five goals in the final three matches of the Confederations Cup, Fred all but assured that he should be first choice at striker for the 2014 World Cup squad--if healthy, of course.
Prior to the Confederations Cup, Chelsea's Ramires was mentioned as a key player mistakenly left out of the squad. In the physical midfield roles, Scorlari opted for Gustavo, who was second-choice at his club last season, and Paulinho, who was a domestic product not yet formally introduced to the international audience.
Throughout the tournament, Gustavo made strong tackles, broke up opposition play, and avoided suspensions. Scolari opened himself up to criticism if the gamble did not payoff, but Gustavo did the job--well, too. One of the rarely mentioned advantages to selecting Gustavo was that his status as backup for Bayern Munich likely preserved his legs and health for the summer tournament. Gustavo's play did not decline over the past two seasons, but Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez earned significantly more money to play for the Bavarian giants. As such, Gustavo was often overlooked when big matches came around.
Paulinho wowed the international viewers in the tournament opener, and from that point forward, his quality was impossible to ignore. At the Confederations Cup, the world met Paulinho.
Scolari picked the correct cast in the proper positions.
The players who should be slightly concerned about their places in next year's team are Hulk and Oscar. Hulk was held scoreless through five matches, and he was often the first player off the pitch when Scolari made a tactical switch.
When Hulk was first off, Oscar was second off. The 21-year-old impressed in the opening match of the Confederations Cup, but he was often inconsistent from that point forward. A signal into the strength of Scolari's marriage to Oscar came in the semifinal of the competition. With the score level at 1-1, the manager pulled Oscar for Hernanes in the 73rd minute. Brazil went on to win the match, but Oscar was sacrificed when Brazil's tournament hung in the balance.
As far as Brazil's defense was concerned, only allowing three goals in five matches against the likes of Spain, Italy, Japan, Mexico, and Uruguay was impressive. Dani Alves, Marcelo, David Luiz, and Thiago Silva all earned their callbacks for 2014. Cesar, Gustavo, and Paulinho also deserve mention when discussing defensive record. As a note, two of those three conceded goals came against Italy in a match Paulinho missed due to a minor ankle injury, so Brazil's first-choice group only allowed one goal in four matches.
Scolari's selection of Brazilians dominated the defending world champions in the final of an intensely competitive tournament. A comprehensive 3-0 victory over Spain held meaning. Even if his domestic pool swims to Europe, Scolari has no reason to change his trusted first 11 of the Confederations Cup when the time comes to pick his first 11 for the World Cup.
As the old saying goes, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Thanks to Scolari, Brazil ain't broke anymore.
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- Luiz Gustavo
- Luiz Felipe Scolari