If the most unsurprising part of the press conference to announce Brazil’s Confederations Cup squad was the opening rant by never knowingly unsleazy CBF president Jose Maria Marin (“today’s about the Seleção, not about the (CBF) elections,” he wheezed, instantly making it, um, all about the elections), at least Felipão had a few tricks up his sleeve to keep the press pack, and the masses watching live on TV, enthralled.
There was no place for Kaká, Alexandre Pato of Corinthians, Chelsea’s Ramires, and, most perplexingly of all, Ronaldinho Gáucho, whose form for Atlético Minero over the last twelve months has been the stuff of myth and legend. The most surprising inclusion was Ronaldinho’s pixyish teammate Bernard, a tiny winger/attacking midfielder rumoured to be on the brink of a move to Borussia Dortmund.
While Kaká and Pato, neither guaranteed starters for their clubs, are understandable omissions, Ramires and Ronaldinho may have paid the price for recent indiscretions. An injured Ramires failed to arrive on the right day for the game against Russia in March, while Ronaldinho rolled up to the squad get together for the recent friendly against Chile twenty five minutes late. Confusing necessary discipline with perceived slights to his authority, Felipão is likely to have placed black marks next to both players’ names.
At least Ramires can say he lost out to some stiff competition. With Lazio’s Hernanes, Fernando of Grêmio, Bayern’s Luis Gustavo and Corinthians’ Paulinho, not to mention the overlooked Lucas Leiva and the injured Sandro, Brazil are well stocked at volante (defensive midfielder).
Ronaldinho’s absence may be further explained by age (he will be 34 by the time the World Cup comes around), his less than thrilling friendly displays under Scolari, and by the theory that Brazil will aim to play a more intense, pressure based game as the Mundial grows near, with younger legs and hearts. It is to be presumed that Felipão has been spending his weekends glued to events in Munich and Dortmund.
On the surface, Ronaldinho’s languid grace and smarts hardly fit such a model. But ironically he has been following exactly such a philosophy at Atlético, flanked by the pace of the aforementioned Bernard and Diego Tardelli (who had been an outside bet for a call-up), with the gangling Jô as the reference point up front. And surely only the stoniest of hearts could peruse a list containing the names of Hulk, and São Paulo’s Jadson, but missing that of Ronaldinho, and not die a little inside.
At least Bernard is an intriguing choice. A devastating bundle of pace and energy, the diminutive youngster was the breakout success of last year’s Brasileirão, and started this year’s Libertadores campaign in equally blistering fashion, including a memorable hat trick away against Arsenal de Sarandi in his first professional game outside Brazil. Niggling injuries have restricted his performances in recent months, but clearly not enough to dissuade Dortmund, who may view him as a flyweight replacement for the departing Mario Götze. Those wishing to see Bernard in action should seek out the goal he created against Grêmio last year – flicking the ball over the head of a first, then a second defender, before hitting a perfect volleyed cross onto Jô’s boot. It was the kind of jump-off-the-sofa-and-spill-your-drink moment that the Seleção has sorely lacked in recent years.
Bernard will be joined in the attacking midfielder department by Oscar and Lucas, with Neymar of Santos/Barcelona/Real Madrid/Bayern Munich, Internacional’s Leandro Damião, and Fred further forward. Despite some success under Felipão, surely only the frailest of defender’s knees will tremble at the sight of the Fluminense striker bearing down on goal.
Atlético Mineiro’s scintillating form was further rewarded when captain, and strapping zagueiro,Réver, was also called up, beating out his friend and Belo Horizontino rival, Cruzeiro’s even more strapping Dedé, once a rumoured Manchester United target. Réver will likely remain a reserve though, with Thiago Silva and David Luiz the starters, and Bayern’s Dante third choice. In goal Julio Cesar, Jefferson, and Diego Cavalieri make up an age before beauty triumverate.
Eleven of the squad are based in Brazil, and many are in their early to mid-twenties. Since taking over at the end of the year, Felipão’s squads have lacked rhyme or reason, often resembling a game of pin the tail on the Seleção squad list. With this selection at least there is a clearer commitment to youth, a wager made that these players will grow enough in the next twelve months to make Brazil a force in 2014. The Confederations Cup will be part of that growth.
But if things do not go as planned, Ronaldinho will be the Banquo’s ghost at the World Cup feast. At least Felipão, who suffered similar flak when leaving Romario at home in 2002, is ready for the pressure. “I have to be,” he said. “If it doesn’t work out, I’ll pay the price. You (journalists) will do what you have to do.”