Barcelona forward Neymar will lead the 23-man Brazil soccer squad named by coach Luiz Felipe Scolari today as the host nation tries to secure the World Cup for a record-extending sixth time.
Scolari’s selection included most of the players called up for last year’s Confederations Cup, an eight-team warm-up for the main event won by Brazil. The home team opens this year’s tournament with a game against Croatia in Sao Paulo on June 12.
Neymar is Brazil’s biggest attacking threat for the tournament. The 22-year-old was named in a group of five strikers that included Fred, an injury-prone forward who’s a favorite with Scolari.
“He has the ultimate responsibility not only for creation, but counter-attacking and improvisation,” Scolari said of Neymar, who’s endured a tough first season with the Spanish champion. “He’ll complement a group that often works for him, but one that he’ll have to work for too.”
The 65-year-old Scolari has raised Brazilian hopes of a first World Cup championship since 2002, when he led the national team to victory in Japan and South Korea. He returned to the squad in November 2012 after it failed to win the gold medal at that year’s London Olympics and was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Copa America.
After meeting Croatia, Brazil faces group-stage games against Mexico in Fortaleza on June 17 before meeting Cameroon in Brasilia six days later. The team will also play tune-up games against Panama and Serbia before the tournament.
Brazil’s 3-0 win over World Cup holder Spain in the final of the Confederations Cup raised hopes in a country where soccer is by far the most-popular sport. U.K. bookmaker Ladbrokes Plc rates Brazil the 3-1 favorite.
“There’s no use thinking about the final when we have to take the initial steps first,” Scolari said at the team announcement in Rio de Janeiro that was packed with 876 people, the majority of them journalists. “Our first step is against Croatia and we don’t care who are opponents will be in the end. The players know this, and Croatia is the most important opponent at this time.”
Some national-team regulars failed to shine for their clubs this year. Goalkeeper Julio Cesar was loaned mid-season from English second-tier outfit Queens Park Rangers to Toronto FC while midfielder Paulinho has struggled to find a regular place at Tottenham.
Brazilians are hoping their players do better on the field than event organizers have done off it. The country has struggled to meet deadlines for infrastructure projects, including the majority of stadiums. With just over a month to go, construction work is still being done at the Corinthians Arena that hosts the tournament opener.
Brazil lost the deciding game of the 1950 World Cup to Uruguay when it last hosted the tournament. The defeat at the Maracana stadium in Rio continues to be discussed as a national tragedy and is known as the “Maracanazo”.Brazil Squad: Goalkeepers: Julio Cesar, Jefferson, Victor Defenders: Maicon, Marcelo, Daniel Alves, Maxwell, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Dante, Henrique Midfielders: Fernandinho, Paulinho, Luiz Gustavo, Ramires, Oscar, Hernanes, Willian Forwards: Neymar, Bernard, Jo, Fred, Hulk
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