It’s been 20 years since Brazil rearing beat a European team in the knockout stages of the World Cup but they’re the favourites to win this year. The Brazil men’s international team has never quite been the same since 1982 despite two World Cup wins in the 40 years since. The last of those came 20 years ago. The 2002 World Cup was a curious affair in which surprise results throughout the tournament opened the knockout stages up. France, Portugal, Argentina and Croatia all fell in the first round, Italy in the second, and Spain in the quarter-finals. But Brazil chugged past Turkey, Costa Rica and China in the group stage, the only team to record maximum points, and then past England in the quarter-finals with the assistance of one of the World Cup’s great goals from Ronaldinho. They glided through the tournament without ever setting it alight, as though protected from the drama that seemed to be going on elsewhere and beat Germany 2-0 in the final.
But since then Brazil have only got past the quarter-finals once and have been treading water in the World Cup finals for two full decades. But it only takes a quick glance at the last Brazil squad to understand why this team is the favourite to win the upcoming World Cup. They have two of the very best goalkeepers in the world, in Alisson and Ederson though head coach Tite seems to prefer Alisson and three players with more than 100 caps, with Dani Alves somehow still going at 39 years old, despite having just left Barcelona after returning home during their crisis last season. They have Thiago Silva, Danilo, Marquinhos and Eder Militao among their defenders, and Casemiro, Countinho in their midfield. But it’s in attack that things start to get frightening: Richarlison, Neymar, Gabriel Jesus, Rapinha and Vinicius Junior to choose from. With Neymar having already mentioned that this may be his last World Cup, those are expansive attacking options.
Three of those attackers have been the subject of transfer gossip for weeks. Richardson is being linked with Spurs with Gabriel Jesus and Rapinha with Arsenal though this remains within the realms of speculation, for now. But it is striking that three of the more enduring transfer sagas of the first couple of weeks of this transfer window have all involved varying degrees of Brazilian muscularity mixed with a penchant for the unexpected. Whichever coaches end up with these three players, it will be fascinating to see how they fit into new environs in the Premier League, next season.
The stars appear to be aligning for Brazil in 2022 as they did in 1962, when they won the World Cup in Chile. They should have done but did not in 1982, which is a whole other story in itself. In 2002, they glided serenely through the mess and quietly got on with the job of beating everybody they needed to beat until they would win it again. And in 2022 they are the favourites again and beaten just once – in the final of the 2021 Copa America by Argentina, no less – since November 2019. The world is a different place now to either 1982 or 2002. It is often said that this World Cup is deeply imperfect and likely to leave a sour taste in the mouth for many yet FIFA probably need a strong, vibrant Brazil team even more than usual. TW