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Can Brazil end a two decade wait for glory at World Cup 2022?

The emergence of a new generation of players has taken the weight off the shoulders of Brazil’s older football stars.

Brazilian football teamcelebrating
Will Brazil’s quarterfinal exit at the hands of Belgium at the last FIFA World Cup come to define the coach Tite's era? [File: Henry Romero/Reuters]

World Cup appearances: 21
Titles: 5
Best finish: Winners (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
World Cup record: W73, D18, L18
Biggest win: 7-1 v Sweden (1950)
Key player: Neymar
Fixtures: Serbia (November 24), Switzerland (November 28), Cameroon (December 2)

Will Brazil’s quarterfinal exit at the hands of Belgium at Russia 2018 come to define the Adenor Leonardo Bacchi era – or can the Brazil coach also known as Tite and his team bounce back at Qatar 2022?

In Russia’s Kazan, the graveyard of the great, Roberto Martinez’s team knocked out the five-time world champions in a wonderful end-to-end, last-eight encounter.

Martinez sprang a tactical surprise by playing Romelu Lukaku on the right side of the attack.

Brazil were rattled. Their second-half response was in vain, even if the result hinged on fine details, including Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois’s fingertips.

The elimination shook Tite and kept him awake at night. Deep down, he is a conservative coach even after he took a sabbatical in 2014 to immerse himself in different coaching schools of the game.

He responded to that defeat by reinforcing his midfield to prevent Brazil from being exposed again. But the team did not rekindle its swagger and spirit of yesteryear. It was as if Tite kept playing out the Belgium match over and over in his head and not even victory in the delayed 2019 Copa America on home soil brought solace.

Brazil played their way to an 11th continental crown, but their laboured style of play failed to impress.

Brazil football yellow jersey
Brazil’s 1994 World Cup winning squad [Faras Ghani/Al Jazeera]

In the World Cup qualifiers, Brazil found some of their mojo again, going unbeaten en route to Qatar, scoring 45 goals and conceding just five.

As impressive as the qualifying campaign was, Brazil and Tite know its significance will be limited when playing the very best at the World Cup.

Brazil have exited the last four world cups early after defeats by European heavyweights – France and Zinedine Zidane in 2006, the Netherlands and Arjen Robben in 2010, Toni Kroos and Germany in 2014, and Belgium and Kevin De Bruyne in 2018.

How will Brazil’s Seleçao Canarinho, react when playing Europe’s elite? The group phase will be a déja vu for Tite.

Once again, Brazil will play Serbia and Switzerland – teams that cannot be underestimated in his view – in the group stages. Four years ago, Tite was obsessed with finding a way to dismantle deep-sitting European defences and his team struggled to dominate in the group stages.

In 2022, the outlook is somewhat different. With the introduction of the UEFA Nations League, Brazil hardly ever get the opportunity to play European opponents, who still represent the litmus test in the international game.

Even so, the five-time world champions will be more confident than ever going into Qatar 2022 because they are no longer solely dependent on Neymar, who is three goals shy of Pelé’s goal-scoring record for Brazil.

The emergence of a new generation of players has taken the weight off the shoulders of Brazil’s lodestar. In the past decades, the 30 year old was the centre of gravity of the Seleção Brasileira, often shouldering all the responsibility while also taking the intense scrutiny but in Vinicius Junior, Richarlison de Andrade or Richarlison and Raphael Dias Belloli (Raphinha) Brazil have a new crop of stars.

Brazilian soccer player Neymar
The five-time world champions will be more confident than ever going into the tournament in Qatar because they are no longer dependent on Neymar [File: Amanda Perobelli/Reuters]

From the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro to the Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, Vinicius Junior’s story is the quintessential Brazilian rages-to-rich story, but, while taking a gamble to move across the Atlantic at a young age, he has established himself in the starting XI of Madrid and become a mainstay for Brazil, nurturing a fine understanding with Neymar.

Brazil’s attacking talent extends beyond Vinicius and leaves Tite with a luxury problem before Brazil kick off their tournament against Serbia on November 24 at Lusail Stadium … where they will expect to return for the final.

Asked in a recent interview with Brazilian media about playing five attacking players in the World Cup final, Tite said: “I don’t know, it will depend on the opponent’s analysis and how well this team gels. The field does the talking. But if you look at the athletes, Paquetá is competitive but can defend. Richarlison compensates for Neymar’s infiltrations, coming from behind. Raphinha marks outstandingly. Vini [Vinicius] is evolving.”

Source: Al Jazeera