SAO PAULO, Sept 10 (Reuters) - Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari confirmed goalkeeper Julio Cesar will definitely be going to the World Cup next year but said there are still four or five places up for grabs in his 23-man squad.
Speaking after Brazil beat Portugal 3-1 in a friendly international in Boston, Scolari said he had between 70 and 80 percent of his squad already picked, with the QPR goalkeeper having guaranteed a ticket to the finals in his homeland.
But there is still room for new faces, even though Brazil have scored nine goals in their last two friendlies against Portugal and Australia, and lost just once since destroying Spain to win the Confederations Cup in June.
“In the games against Australia and then again today I’ve seen there are one or two players I can add to the 17 or 18 I already have on my list,” Scolari told reporters after the game.
The early selection of Julio Cesar was interesting because he had fallen out of favour after making a mistake that led to Brazil’s elimination at the last World Cup against the Netherlands.
The keeper was marginalised by previous manager Mano Menezes and left Internazionale to play with the unheralded Queens Park Rangers. Scolari drafted him back in after taking over as coach in December.
“I was as surprised as you,” a smiling Julio Cesar told reporters when asked about the announcement.
“I think he wanted to protect me, so many people were asking about my position. Now I need to keep working hard and maintain my form over the next eight months.”
Scolari, however, refused to confirm other names and said he planned to keep experimenting in the four friendlies Brazil have before the end of this year.
“I might call up one or two new players to see how they react,” he said.
Brazil play South Korea and Zambia next month and then have two other friendlies against unconfirmed opponents before the year ends. They will have at least one more friendly in March.
The World Cup kicks off in Brazil next June.
Scolari said he was pleased with his side’s performance against Portugal and paid tribute to mercurial forward Neymar, who had a hand in all three goals.
The young Barcelona striker was singled out for some rough treatment by Portuguese defenders and Scolari called on referees to give him more protection.
“Neymar has something - his dribble - that means he is exposed to opponents who will foul him or bring him down,” Scolari said.
“I don’t know if ‘hunted’ is the right word but he is being stopped by fouls and referees have to take note.”
“He was very good tonight,” Scolari added. “I’ve been watching him for three or four years since he came up at Santos and it’ s only once every 15 or 20 games when he doesn’t play to his full potential. That’s Neymar.” (Editing by John O‘Brien)