Brazil the latest favourite to stumble, but it won't panic

Brazil was forced to settle for a point against Switzerland, but the Selecao remain justifiable World Cup favorites.

Unlike on home soil in 2014, the fortunes of this Selecao side does not appear dependent solely on the contribution of Neymar.   -  AFP

A World Cup winner doesn't always arrive at tournaments ready to play. And apparently, Switzerland enjoys making it sweat.

In South Africa in 2010, the Swiss stunned heavy favorites Spain 1-0 in its opening group game, as Vicente Del Bosque's side got off to a false start. 

It didn't prevent Spain from lifting the trophy a little under four weeks later. So Brazil's frustrating 1-1 draw to Switzerland in Rostov-on-Don on Sunday should not diminish its status as one of the front-runners for the big prize in Russia.

Perhaps Tite's team did not want to feel left out, after watching fellow heavyweights Spain and Argentina drop points against Portugal and Iceland, respectively, France labor to an unconvincing win over Australia and Germany suffer a shocking loss to Mexico.

Brazil started brightly enough, as Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho, the scorer of a stunning opening goal in the 20th minute, sparkled brightly next to the mighty Don River.

Neymar less so — the Paris Saint-Germain forward found himself a peripheral figure throughout much of the contest, but Brazil's fans needn't panic, about the team or their star, despite Steven Zuber's unscripted intervention.

ALSO READ: Brazil 1 Switzerland 1: Zuber pegs back below-par Selecao

Unlike on home soil in 2014, the fortunes of this Selecao side does not appear dependent on the former Santos and Barcelona attacker's contribution.

Certainly, it would be better to have Neymar fit and firing throughout to lead a would-be charge to the decider in Moscow next month, and there remains plenty of time for the world's most expensive player to get up to speed.

But with Willian, Gabriel Jesus, Coutinho, Douglas Costa and Roberto Firmino also among Tite's attacking options, playing ahead of a balanced midfield comprising Paulinho, and one of Casemiro or Fernandinho, and ably supported by Marcelo and Danilo on the flanks, Brazil can justifiably still hope to win this World Cup, with or without Neymar. And with or without an opening victory over Switzerland.

Neymar was fouled 10 times during the game - more than any player in a World Cup game since 1998.   -  Getty images

 

This group of players is reminiscent of the 2002 team, in terms of balance and structure, if not personnel. Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and Ronaldo were the exceptional frontline, and Tite's equivalent cannot yet claim to be worthy of inheriting their mantle, despite their promise. Such accolades may well depend on their fortunes here.

ALSO READ: In Ronaldo, Brazil had a complete striker

But behind the creators and finishers, the unspectacular workers would recognize something of themselves in one another — Gilberto Silva and Kleberson, fated to different Premier League fortunes, laid the foundations and supplied the building blocks for those triumphant weeks in Japan and Korea. Lucio, Edmilson and Roque Junior were solid enough at the back. Their humble successors can do the same 16 years on. 

Luiz Felipe Scolari knew exactly what was required from each department of his side to get the job done and Tite appears to share that clarity and simplicity of purpose, a characteristic lacked by many of the men to separate their respective tenures, including "Felipao" in his ultimately traumatic second bite at the cherry. 

It's worth remembering that it took an 87th-minute penalty from Rivaldo to get Brazil up and running in its opener against Turkey in 2002.

No such last-minute reprieve was forthcoming in Rostov, despite Brazil's best efforts in the final moments, and the merciless quills of the Brazilian and global media may well be sharpened ahead of next Friday's meeting with Costa Rica in St. Petersburg. 

But don't write Brazil off just yet, far from it. We've only turned the first page in the Selecao's latest World Cup chapter.   

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