REUTERS - The Brazil team to face against England next Wednesday will be Luiz Felipe Scolari’s first since taking over in December and fans can expect him to turn out a characteristically rugged side with a dash of true Brazilian flair.
Scolari, usually known as Felipao (Big Phil) in Brazil, is back in charge for the first time since he guided Brazil to World Cup glory in 2002 and his task is to do the same when they host the tournament next year.
Fans expect nothing less than victory and the pressure is enormous.
“Let’s acknowledge one thing,” Scolari said at his first news conference. “We have to win the World Cup.”
The former Portugal and Chelsea coach included several veterans in the squad to face England in the belief that Brazil’s youngsters will require experienced heads around them when the World Cup rolls around.
Among the big names he recalled after time out in the cold are Queen Park Rangers goalkeeper Julio Cesar, Lazio midfielder Hernanes and forwards Ronaldinho, Luis Fabiano and Fred.
All are expected to feature against England at Wembley.
He left out Kaka, who played well for Brazil in his last two matches despite struggling to get a game with Real Madrid, and ignored midfielder Willian, who has been outstanding for Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League.
He also overlooked Internacional striker Leandro Damiao and Vasco da Gama’s highly rated centre half Dede and will be without Real Madrid full back Marcelo and Paris St Germain centre half Thiago Silva, who are out through injury.
Scolari’s predecessor Mano Menezes had completely overhauled the aging Brazil side that crashed out the 2010 World Cup at the quarter-final stage. He ushered out the veterans, brought in a whole squad of youngsters, and was gradually adopting a more patient European style of play.
Most notably, he opted to play without a fixed striker, with Santos sensation Neymar given a free role in attack, behind or alongside playmakers such as Oscar, Kaka, Thiago Neves and Hulk.
That set up will be shelved at least temporarily by Scolari, who included old fashioned centre forwards Luis Fabiano and Fred in his squad.
“I like players with those characteristics,” he said of the Sao Paulo and Fluminense strikers. “My idea is to use both during the game, not at the same time, perhaps for 45 minutes each.”
If his past teams are any guide, Scolari will also focus on making Brazil hard to break down.
His most successful sides, the Gremio and Palmeiras teams of the 1990s, and the Portugal team he took to the final of the 2004 European Championship and the semi-final of the 2006 World Cup, all had a solid spine and a stand-out midfielder or goalscorer.
Scolari has a talisman as he considers Neymar every bit as influential as Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.
He will now work to sort out a defence that has been prone to lapses in concentration, and make it as formidable as his midfield, which rivals any in the world thanks to the speed and power of players like Ramires and Paulinho.
However, Scolari’s biggest influence may come off the field.
Brazilians are accustomed to gruff, sergeant-major style figures leading their football teams. They never took to the quietly spoken Menezes and he and his players were sometimes insulted by supporters.
Scolari blends his tough talking with simplicity and it has made him hugely popular with fans and players alike, all of whom fondly remember him as the father figure whose “Scolari Family” lifted the World Cup in Japan.
Not only will he get the team playing for him, he will get the whole country behind the side and that, said one of his former pupils, will be invaluable given the pressure they are under.
“He knows when to stop training and read the riot act to a player and he knows when the players are joking and when to play along,” said Edmilson, a World Cup winner in 2002 and a fan of his old boss.
“He has this ability to unite people, both the players and the fans, and he knows how to get everybody behind him. That is very important.” (Editing by Mark Meadows)