The World Cup kicks off tonight with hosts Brazil going up against Croatia in Sao Paulo. Brazil are justifiably heavy favourites but they will face a side packed full of creative midfield talent in the shape of Modric, Rakitic and Kovacic. Given the flamboyant history of Brazilian football there is a distinct lack of that type of talent in the Selecao midfield.
Luis Gustavo, Paulinho, Ramires and Fernandinho are all athletic, technically sound players but none of them possess that touch of craft required to create chances. Brazil are hugely reliant on two players to provide the attacking flair; Neymar and Oscar.
Neymar is undoubtedly the star of this team. He is the one who is under the greatest pressure to perform in the coming month and his recent injury scare gave the entire country palpitations. However, perhaps even more important could be the performances of Oscar, the only recognised number 10 in the squad.
The Chelsea man has had an indifferent season. It started with Mourinho discarding Juan Mata in favour of the young Brazilian but ended with him playing no part in the Champions League semi-final second leg defeat to Atletico Madrid and Mourinho admitting his disappointment with his form.
Injuries disrupted his season but towards the end of this campaign he began to look a bit burnt out. It is hardly surprising given the 22-year-old has played a phenomenal amount of football in the last two years. Beginning with the London Olympics in 2012 and ending with Brazil’s warm up game last week against Serbia, Oscar has played 140 games for club and country.
He had little in the way of time off given his participation in the Confederations Cup last summer and has had to adapt to living in a completely new culture. Throw in the fact that he became a first time father last week and it would not be a shock if he is simply running on empty.
These worries about the Chelsea man’s form have come to a head in the last fortnight in which he gave uninspiring displays against Panama and Serbia. There are calls for his club teammate Willian to start ahead of him, a move that would see an alteration in the Selecao’s well established set up.
Scolari is big on continuity as evidenced by the fact that he has started essentially the same team in every game since settling on a 4-2-3-1 system shortly before the Confederations Cup. Oscar in particular has been an ever-present.
Willian would bring similar work rate and greater power to the side but he lacks the guile and goal threat of Oscar. This is why Scolari’s decision not to include any of Lucas Moura, Philippe Coutinho, Kaka and Ronaldinho in his final 23 was a big risk. He has sought to create a united group who play for each other and know each other’s games inside out.
To a large extent he seems to have succeeded, with David Luiz claiming it is the best environment he has ever played in. However, in the process Scolari has excluded a number of his more creative options and is left with little alternative than to hope Oscar regains form. If he doesn’t, the decision may cost the hosts the home win they have been craving since 1950.
Simon Bracken, Pundit Arena.