WORLD CUP: Balanced Brazil reduces dependence on Neymar


By MAURICIO SAVARESE - AP Sports Writer



Brazil's soccer players Neymar, left, and Gabriel Jesus, throw flour and eggs on the head of teammate Philippe Coutinho, to jokingly celebrate Coutinho's birthday, during a training session in Sochi, Russia, Tuesday, June 12, 2018. Brazil will face Switzerland on June 17 in the group E for the soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Brazil's soccer players Neymar, left, and Gabriel Jesus, throw flour and eggs on the head of teammate Philippe Coutinho, to jokingly celebrate Coutinho's birthday, during a training session in Sochi, Russia, Tuesday, June 12, 2018. Brazil will face Switzerland on June 17 in the group E for the soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)


Brazil's Neymar, right, embraces teammate Gabriel Jesus, during a training session in Sochi, Russia, Tuesday, June 12, 2018. Brazil will face Switzerland on June 17 in the group E for the soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)


Brazil's head coach Tite attends a training session in Sochi, Russia, Tuesday, June 12, 2018. Brazil will face Switzerland on June 17 in the group E for the soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)


SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil is still shaking off the embarrassment of losing to Germany 7-1 in its home World Cup.

Since Tite took over as coach in 2016, the five-time world champions have become a winning machine again and were the first to qualify for Russia.

Neymar, who missed the humiliating match against Germany because of injury, has had to recover from a broken foot that kept him out for three months before the trip to Russia.

But there isn’t such a reliance now on the world’s most expensive player. In six games without Neymar, Brazil still won four times, including a friendly against Germany in Berlin in March.

“He will be missed by any team,” Brazil defender Thiago Silva said, “but not having him sometimes helps us consolidate the style we want.”

Indeed, the Brazilians head into the World Cup looking more balanced and with a range of top players available in every position. They were so dominant in South American qualifying that they would still have secured first place without the points secured in six games under Dunga before the coach was fired.

Brazil should be even more dangerous in Russia if Neymar, who sustained the injury playing for Paris Saint-Germain in February, is fully fit.

“Skill wise, he is already the best player in the world,” Brazil great Pele said. “This is his time to shine.”

Here’s a closer look at the Brazil team:

COACH

In less than two years on the job, Adenor Leonardo Bachi — better known as Tite — has turned Brazil from a flop into a title favorite.

A former pupil of defense-minded Luiz Felipe Scolari — the 2002 World Cup-winning coach who also presided over the Germany match — Tite has grown into a fan of Carlo Ancelotti and his well-balanced teams. The two have exchanged ideas since 2014.

Detractors say Tite’s teams are low scoring and that he charms players and journalists into sparing him from criticism. But his title streak at Corinthians from 2011-15 underscores his credentials for the national team job.

GOALKEEPERS

Alisson Becker wasn’t a household name in Brazil when he started wearing the No. 1 jersey two years ago. Now a starter for Roma, the 25-year-old Becker’s admirers include Italy great Gianluigi Buffon.

Alisson’s skills with both hands and feet made Tite relegate Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson to the bench. He is now being linked with a move to a leading club, including Real Madrid, Liverpool and Chelsea.

The third option is Tite’s most trusted player in the position, Corinthians goalkeeper Cassio.

DEFENDERS

In 12 South American World Cup qualifiers under Tite, Brazil conceded only three goals.

The coach would have preferred to play with a solid back four featuring Paris Saint-Germain duo Dani Alves and Marquinhos, Inter Milan’s Miranda and Real Madrid’s Marcelo. But Alves will miss the World Cup because of injury and will be replaced by Manchester City defender Danilo.

At the pre-World Cup training camp, Tite decided to move PSG central defender Thiago Silva to Marquinhos’ place.

The three other reserves, right back Fagner, defender Pedro Geromel and left back Filipe Luis, are clearly lagging behind the starters.

MIDFIELDERS

Philippe Coutinho could replace Renato Augusto, who plays at Chinese club Beijing Guoan and is returning from injury, as the playmaker.

If that happens, Coutinho’s position on the left could be filled by Chelsea midfielder Willian. Fred is also in contention to start if he recovers from an ankle injury.

A more defensive variation would see Fernandinho, who plays with Premier League champion Manchester City, take Augusto’s place. While Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro offers protection to the defense, Barcelona rival Paulinho is a box-to-box player who also provides goals.

FORWARDS

If Neymar isn’t fit for the World Cup, Tite may have to resort to using Willian or Douglas Costa, who is also returning from injury, in his place.

While Gabriel Jesus was Brazil’s top scorer in qualifying, the Man City player faces competition from Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino.

Tite lacks an old-fashioned center forward, so he chose a speedier player, Shahktar Donetsk’s Taison, for the bench.

GROUP GAMES

Brazil will have its base in Sochi despite playing no games near the Black Sea resort. The team will face Switzerland on Sunday in its Group E opener in Rostov-on-Don and then play Costa Rica on June 22 in St. Petersburg and Serbia on June 27 in Moscow.

SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Alisson (Roma), Ederson (Manchester City), Cassio (Corinthians)

Defenders: Danilo (Manchester City), Fagner (Corinthians), Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain), Marquinhos (Paris Saint-Germain), Miranda (Inter Milan), Pedro Geromel (Gremio), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid)

Midfielders: Casemiro (Real Madrid), Paulinho (Barcelona), Philippe Coutinho (Barcelona), Renato Augusto (Beijing Guoan), Fred (Manchester United), Fernandinho (Manchester City)

Forwards: Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain), Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City), Willian (Chelsea), Roberto Firmino (Liverpool), Douglas Costa (Juventus), Taison (Shakhtar Donetsk)

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More AP World Cup coverage: www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Brazil’s soccer players Neymar, left, and Gabriel Jesus, throw flour and eggs on the head of teammate Philippe Coutinho, to jokingly celebrate Coutinho’s birthday, during a training session in Sochi, Russia, Tuesday, June 12, 2018. Brazil will face Switzerland on June 17 in the group E for the soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2018/06/web1_120732643-4cc8546f734a4818b67250c43ea206d3.jpgBrazil’s soccer players Neymar, left, and Gabriel Jesus, throw flour and eggs on the head of teammate Philippe Coutinho, to jokingly celebrate Coutinho’s birthday, during a training session in Sochi, Russia, Tuesday, June 12, 2018. Brazil will face Switzerland on June 17 in the group E for the soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Brazil’s Neymar, right, embraces teammate Gabriel Jesus, during a training session in Sochi, Russia, Tuesday, June 12, 2018. Brazil will face Switzerland on June 17 in the group E for the soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2018/06/web1_120732643-c7cf81d2862d4703899ef7f4c606e2c9.jpgBrazil’s Neymar, right, embraces teammate Gabriel Jesus, during a training session in Sochi, Russia, Tuesday, June 12, 2018. Brazil will face Switzerland on June 17 in the group E for the soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Brazil’s head coach Tite attends a training session in Sochi, Russia, Tuesday, June 12, 2018. Brazil will face Switzerland on June 17 in the group E for the soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2018/06/web1_120732643-1d1b77016b194d259a9ab40942419c39.jpgBrazil’s head coach Tite attends a training session in Sochi, Russia, Tuesday, June 12, 2018. Brazil will face Switzerland on June 17 in the group E for the soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

By MAURICIO SAVARESE

AP Sports Writer

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