scolariFelipe Scolari announced his full, 23-man roster for the World Cup today. With one minor exception, the list contained no real surprises.   Behold, your Brazil 2014 World Cup Men’s National Team:

GK: Julio Cesar, Jefferson, Victor

RB: Dani Alves, Maicon

CB: Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Dante, Henrique

LB: Marcelo, Maxwell

MF: Luis Gustavo, Paulinho, Fernandinho, Ramires, Hernanes, Oscar

LW: Neymar, Willian

RW: Hulk, Bernard

CF: Fred, Jo

Unless the situation changes drastically during training camp, we can expect Scolari to trot out the same starting XI that won the Confederations Cup:

Scolari Starting XI

Most of the articles on Scolari’s Selecão currently floating around the web center around one of two storylines:

A) A Familia Scolari: How Felipao has shaped his roster with chemistry, fraternity, and loyalty in mind.


B) The Romario/Ronaldinho phenomenon: That is to say, more time is devoted discussing who was not selected than who actually was. In this case, most of the attention has been focused on Kaka and Robinho not making the side, or less commonly, Filipe Luis, Miranda, and Philipe Coutinho.

The first storyline is more important than the second (though I personally think selecting Filipe Luis was a no-brainer), but almost everything you can say about both storylines has already been said. So why not focus on a third, less talked-about aspect of this side?

Versatility and Interchangeability[1]

The single most striking thing about this roster isn’t a negative, like some people portray it.[2] It’s actually an amazing positive, and here it is: half of this roster can convincingly play in more than one role and one position.


Ball-playing centerbacks: David Luiz has spent as much time in the midfield as he has in the backline for Chelsea lately. Dante actually started his career as a defensive midfielder. Henrique is more than comfortable in either role. Even Thiago Silva saw time at the position while playing for Milan. Each of our central defenders can play in more than one position, while Luiz can function not only as a defensive midfielder but as a deep-lying playmaker of sorts, thanks to his dribbling skills and above-average distribution.

Jacks in the midfield: Fernandinho, Ramires, Hernanes and even Oscar are four of the most versatile midfielders in the world. Assuming Scolari keeps his preferred double-pivot, Fernandinho functions best in a slightly more advanced position, where he can use his excellent passing skills and quick decision-making to transition the ball from front to back with maximum speed without resorting to long balls…one of the most important phases of the game, and perhaps the true hallmark of classic Brazilian football.[3] But he can also act as the more defensive of the pair, as he recently proved for City. While he’ll be mistaken for the next Gilberto Silva (nor should he try; that title belongs to Gustavo), Fernandinho is an energetic, proactive defender who looks to press and harry opposing dribblers, making him a solid reserve for Gustavo should the latter get injured or suspended.

Hernanes and Oscar are neither classic #10s nor pure central midfielders.[4] They combine the best of both worlds – technique on the ball, superb movement, a range of passing, and high work rate. Of course, Hernanes’ defensive skills are based more on enthusiasm than skill (he’s a willing tackler, but also a clumsy one). Oscar is probably better. He was one of the Chelsea’s best tacklers throughout the season, and with the possible exception of Gustavo, is also Brazil’s best presser. Sturdily built and stronger than his slight frame would imply, Oscar’s ability to recover the ball is the unsung key to Scolari’s entire philosophy. His ability to recover and then attack – demonstrated so well against Spain and Chile, to name but two examples – makes him indispensable even when his overall form dips.

Ramires, of course, is the prototypical jack: skilled at all trades, a master at none. Tactically, he’s a utility man. He can slot into the double-pivot or even move out to the right wing. Regardless of where you put him, he’ll contribute to both defense and attack, shuttling between boxes with wolf-like stamina.

From a positional standpoint, Paulinho is less versatile. He doesn’t have the defensive skills or instincts to function as a pure defensive midfielder, nor the technical skills to play as an AM. And while I’ve never seen it tried, I doubt he has the pace to play on the wing. The only spot that really suits him is next to an out-and-out destroyer like Gustavo. But from that position, he can wreak havoc. His ability to make secondary runs into the box approaches world class, and he can even carry the ball out of the back on occasion with the odd storming run.

Strategically, Paulinho’s greatest virtue is this: when opposing teams start paying too much attention to the likes of Neymar, Oscar, and Hulk , that’s when he’s most likely to strike.

Wingers who aren’t really wingers

In the old days, wingers were exactly what they sounded like – players who hugged a particular touchline as if their lives depended on it before bombing the opponent’s box with crosses.

Nowadays, these types of wingers are rare. More often we see the inverted winger – Hulk and Neymar being too good and obvious examples – or at the very least, wingers who are very comfortable drifting inside to link up with the midfield until there’s little difference between the two. Other wingers – again, Hulk and Neymar are two good examples – are in truth strikers…the only difference being they prefer to receive the ball deeper and in wider positions.

Our wingers are all of the above. Neymar is a an inverted left-winger who really sees himself in the role of a forward while wearing the #10 on the back of his shirt. He’s both Brazil’s main goal-scoring threat as well as its creator-in-chief. In addition, he can also play as a false #9 in the unlikely event Scolari chooses to use one.

On paper, Willian will be Neymar’s deputy. A left-sided midfielder/winger for Shakthar, Willian can also play on the right wing just as comfortably. While he’s no goal scorer, he’s a useful attacking player who’s also willing to do the dirty work in the defense.

Hulk, of course, is an inverted winger, too, and it’s on the right wing where he’ll likely start. But Scolari has shown no hesitation in moving him to the left. In such situations, Hulk offers less of a goal-scoring threat, as it prevents him from using his favorite move: cutting onto his left foot and firing from long range (also known as an Arjen Robben Special). On the other hand, moving Hulk to the left actually ends up creating more width, for several reasons. Hulk relies more on pure pace while playing on that side, and is less prone to cutting inside. Instead, he’ll attempt to get to the byline and square the ball. Moving Hulk to the left also opens up more room on the right wing for Dani Alves or Maicon to get forward, as Hulk has less understanding about how to combine with wingbacks than Oscar or Bernard do.

Finally, Hulk can function equally well as a center forward in the Adriano-mold, a role he’s performed more and more this year for his club, Zenit St. Petersburg.

And that leaves us with Bernard. Adept on both the left or the right, Bernard is a wonderful combination player and has a delightful simpatico with Maicon. Quick, alert, energetic, and skillful, Bernard gives Scolari an alternative to the more direct Hulk.

So there you have it. With the exception of the goalkeepers, fullbacks, and center forwards, just about every player on this team can either play in multiple positions, multiple roles, or both.

Going into this World Cup, Brazil has four primary weapons:

1. The atmosphere of the crowd

2. The togetherness and chemistry instilled by Scolari

3. Neymar, already one of the premier international players in the world

4. And the versatility of its roster, allowing Scolari to throw multiple combinations, styles, and approaches at opponents, making it impossible for other coaches to plan for them all.

In a little over a month’s time, we’ll see whether those weapons are enough.


[1] Microsoft Word says this is a word, so it’s a word.

[2] Where are the stars? Where are the classic #9s? Where are the classic #10s? Where are the teenaged phenomenons/bow-legged geniuses/chain-smoking maestros/players who represent my favorite club?

[3] Watch the ’58, ’62, ’70 or ’82 teams and what will really strike you isn’t some long-lost devotion to possession, like revisionists claim. It’s actually their speed and fluidity when transferring the ball from half to another. The classic Brazil teams were attacking teams in the truest sense of the word – they were always looking to attack, and they did that primarily due to the fact that almost everyone could pass quickly and accurately. The success of Brazil’s great midfields relied on the Zito’s, Gerson’s, and Toninho Cerezo’s of the world as much as they did the more heralded attacking midfielders like Didi and Zico.

[4] Oscar can also play on the wing, especially the right. In fact, his best games under Scolari occurred when played as a right-sided midfielder in a 4-4-2.