Lazaroni: This is Brazil’s new golden generation

Sebastiao Lazaroni, who coached Brazil in the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy, has said that 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™ will be the crowning glory of Neymar’s international career both as the leader of a talented group and as an individual.

Sebastiao Lazaroni was the coach of the Brazil national team at the 1990 FIFA World Cup.   -  SC

Sebastiao Lazaroni, who coached Brazil in the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy, has said that 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™ will be the crowning glory of Neymar’s international career both as the leader of a talented group and as an individual.

The 23-year-old Brazil captain, who scored a wonder goal for Barcelona against Villareal earlier this week, is set to resume his international career in Friday’s 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier against traditional rivals Argentina after sitting out four matches due to suspension.

According to Lazaroni, who was appointed for a second stint at the Qatar Stars League (QSL) side Qatar Sports Club last month, the first of the much awaited two ‘Super Clasico’ games during the 2018 qualifying campaign is the next step for the evolution of Brazil’s latest golden generation. The former Brazil coach believes this process will culminate with the Selecao bagging a sixth World Cup crown in Qatar.

“Brazil’s performance in Buenos Aires is very important in the long term,” said Lazaroni, 55, who coached Brazil to their first Copa America win in 40 years in 1989 defeating Argentina 2-0 in the process with goals from forwards Bebeto and Romario. Both subsequently emerged as stars of the successful 1994 World Cup campaign.

“It is the first chance for our talented youngsters to blend as a group. Another golden Brazilian generation is emerging with Neymar, Oscar, Lucas Moura, Philippe Coutinho, Willian, Roberto Firmino and Douglas Costa. They will achieve full maturity as a group, with Neymar as leader, by Qatar 2022 and could win the country’s sixth World Cup title. I think Russia 2018 might come a bit too soon for them.”

Lazaroni, whose side fell to a 1-0 defeat against Argentina in the round of 16 stage of the 1990 World Cup, said that the real test for current coach Dunga is to harness the individual brilliance of the talented youngsters at his disposal for the overall benefit of the team.

“Dunga’s role will be to foster the golden generation into a team unit,” said Lazaroni. “For example, I feel that Liverpool’s Coutinho was not used well enough during the Copa America in Chile and now he has not been picked for the qualifiers against Argentina and Peru.”

The man who coached Dunga and his deputy Jorginho in the 1990 World Cup continued: “They are all in their early twenties and can follow in the footsteps of Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaka, who won the fifth title in 2002. With the World Cup returning to Asia in 2022, it is the perfect timing for the next golden generation to bring home the sixth title, what we call in Brazil the hepta. It would be a fantastic occasion to win with the Middle East hosting the region’s first ever World Cup. The weather is going to be amazing for football and the passion of the people of the region will lift Brazil just as it did in South Korea and Japan in 2002.”

The best time to begin the process of rebuilding after 2014, according to Lazaroni, would be against Argentina, who are still a formidable side at home despite missing Messi and Sergio Aguero to injury and having had a difficult start to their 2018 qualification campaign.

“Argentina are a strong side even without Messi and Aguero. They have several marvellous offensive players, especially Angel Di Maria, and are a strong defensive unit as we saw in Brazil 2014 when they finished runners up. They always have the hunger to win against Brazil. Neymar and his teammates will be tested by the Argentineans on their own turf and this experience will help the youngsters in the future.”

Lazaroni added that Neymar, who has scored 46 goals in only 67 appearances for the 'Selecao' including four in his maiden World Cup finals in 2014 at home, will be at the height of his maturity as an individual in 2022.

“According to statistics, Neymar is better than Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo when they were at a similar age. He will be at the peak of his technical prowess in Russia 2018. Players normally start reaching full maturity when they are between 26 and 28. In 2022, Neymar will be 30 and the complete package as a player. While he would still be a force to reckon with technically, he would be more mature than in Russia.”

Lazaroni, who has had coaching stints with clubs in Brazil, Italy, France, Turkey, Japan, Saudi Arabia in addition to Qatar, said that Dunga also needs to improve the side defensively.

“One of Dunga’s biggest mistakes has been the attitude towards Thiago Silva,” said Lazaroni, referring to the Paris Saint-Germain defender’s exclusion for the qualifiers against Argentina and Peru. “Thiago and Miranda are the best centre-backs in the world today and it is in Brazil’s best interests for Russia 2018 that they play together in the qualifiers.”

As his national team prepare to take on Argentina, Lazaroni travelled down memory lane to yet another Super Clasico contest, an even more high profile one but in which he was an active participant - the 1990 World Cup round of 16 encounter.

“We had dominated the game but lost by a goal scored by Claudio Caniggia off a brilliant Maradona assist,” he reminisced ruefully. “We had so many chances and our forwards [Careca and Muller] just couldn’t find the back of the net. As they say in Brazil, the ball will punish you if you make mistakes. Argentina were happy defending and relying on Maradona to produce a moment of magic. This is exactly what happened.”

Brazil can take heart that Argentina’s modern maestro will not be around in Buenos Aires to do an encore.

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