Brazil – the land of Samba, Carnival, the meandering Amazon and its equally sensitive rainforest – has a way of life like no other place on earth. There’s a mix of mystic, the fervent devotion for Christ the Redeemer – ever visible from every corner of Rio De Janeiro and its Copacabana Beach – and also the hip-swaying beats of the dancing belles and chugs of refreshing Caipirinha with a dash of cachaça, sugar, and lime.
It’s an intoxicating life, forever driven by passion, beauty and a bit of madness. Brazil’s football, too, reflects that life, drawing in followers from every corner by their twirling feet, swerving hips and a narcotic dependency with the ball -- the ‘Meu Amor’.
And finally on Thursday – far from their home – the practitioners of this mesmerising art will look to hold sway on the attention of the watching world. In the gigantic Lusail Stadium, already a fallen shrine for neighbour and forever rival Argentina, Brazil will take on a rough and tough Serbia. Coach Tite, wisened up since the quarterfinal loss from four years ago, has the most standout squad of this World Cup – men of extraordinary talent fighting for every spot. This is a team that has no place for Roberto Firmino or Arsenal defender Gabriel and will have Pep Guardiola’s ‘keeper Ederson warming its bench. The only regular in every World Cup since 1930, the experienced team of Neymar, Fabinho, Casemiro and Thiago Silva had collected a record 45 points in a 17-match undefeated qualifying campaign and won’t be deterred by the firepower that Serbia packs.
Only fools would take Brazil lightly, and Dragan Stojkovic is no fool. He will revert to a three-man defence after experimenting with four in a comfortable preparatory win over Bahrain. His wing backs Andrija Zivkovic and Filip Kostic will have to curb their attacking natures to deal with the twin menace of Gabriel Jesus and Vinicius Junior, while Neymar will float like a butterfly – and all three can sting like bees.
Serbia, though, won’t worry about conceding large chunks of possession. The team designed for quick breaks, however, might miss target-man and the nation’s top scorer Aleksander Mitrovic. The Fulham striker is still not fully fit after a groin injury.
With no such worries, Brazil, cautious of the quicksand that has swallowed quite a few pedigreed teams already, is hopeful that its passion and panache would set it up to end its 20-year wait for the title.
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