Three Young Kings: Neymar, Pogba, Varane

 

Raphaël Varane and Paul Pogba. (Photo: AFP)
Raphaël Varane and Paul Pogba. (Photo: AFP)

 

By: COLIN REESE

 

There’s about to be a regime change in World Football, and Neymar, Paul Pogba, and Raphaël Varane will be the undisputed best footballers in the world at their respective positions: forward, midfielder, defender.

 

Neymar is widely considered the heir apparent to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but, for this writer, Neymar already wears the crown.

 

The French midfielder Paul Pogba of Juventus continues to dazzle fans, players, coaches, and the media with his incredible technical ability and completeness as a midfielder, and all of this skill is present in a 6’5” frame that displays power, speed, and rubber band-like flexibility.

 

This season, Raphaël Varane – another French player – has oddly been the third choice center back for Real Madrid under Carlo Ancelotti after Sergio Ramos and Pepe, but Ancelotti has also shown a tendency to use Varane in the biggest games. Last season, Varane started for Real Madrid when the stakes were the highest.

 

For this writer, only Thiago Silva is superior to Varane, and the argument can easily be made that Varane is amongst the top three center backs in the world. Varane also excels as a right back – and one would imagine as a left back as well.

 

While Neymar is the most famous of the three, both Pogba and Varane are household names for soccer fans, and both are considered world-class footballers of the highest order.

 

As each day goes by, Neymar, Pogba, and Varane become the best footballers around at their respective category of position.

 

Let’s look at each player in greater detail:

 

FORWARD: NEYMAR (Brazil, Barcelona)

 

Neymar is the crown jewel of world football. His overall skill, dribbling, and creativity have no rival, and the speed and spontaneity of his attacking make him impossible to shut down.

 

While Messi is an incredible passer who constantly breaks down defenses with perfect passes, Neymar has a more versatile arsenal of passing skills. Messi’s perfectly weighted chips and balls played over the top require unbelievably skill, but Neymar’s passing skills are more complete and advanced due to his use of both feet.

 

Neymar uses both feet interchangeably to dribble, pass, and score, and his ability to beat defenses by himself or by orchestrating the attack make him a once in a generation player.

 

The Brazilian prodigy is mostly known for his electrifying speed, his tricks, and his ability to score, but Neymar is a very complete attacker that is a deadball and penalty kick specialist, in addition to being a playmaker that makes his teammates better.

 

Finally, Neymar has always been a big-game player that always delivers despite the pressure. Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have always seen much better success in club soccer than in international soccer, but Neymar has always excelled and put up big numbers on both the club and international level.

 

Neymar is the future King of World Football, and he has the potential to go down as the best footballer of all-time.

 

MIDFIELDER: Paul POGBA (France, Juventus)

 

Paul Pogba has always been seen as a prodigy that was a complete midfielder blessed with the physique and athleticism of an NBA shooting guard, but the French midfielder continues to show more and more trickery and creativity in his touches, dribbling, passing, and shooting.

 

Some of Pogba’s first big-time highlights were his rocketed goals from distance with either foot, but now Pogba is showing a degree of dribbling in tight spaces and in the open field that is often reminiscent of Neymar.

 

In addition to being a powerful and technical two-way player, Pogba has now become something of a magician that plays like a Number 10 but tackles and defends like a world-class center back.

 

If you add to all of this that Pogba is so influential all over the field and so tireless in his work rate, the Frenchman becomes a player that can boss games by himself and determine the outcome of games single-handedly.

 

Paul Pogba is a monster of a midfielder, and the undisputed best midfielder of his generation.

 

DEFENDER: Raphaël VARANE (France, Real Madrid)

 

Like Neymar and Pogba, Varane looked world-class as a teenager. It was simply impossible to watch Varane play against elite players and not see a center back that was basically perfect with his tackling and technical ability, and he is close to unbeatable in a foot race.

 

Varane is about 6’4”, and this size and speed combined with his calmness on the ball make him the heir apparent to Thiago Silva. Varane is already a proven performer at the very highest level, and he not only performs well as a defender, but he often outshines every other defender by some distance.

 

In many games, Varane shuts every opposition attacker down and makes it almost futile to even attempt to get past him. If you get past him, he’ll catch you and win the ball back with a clean tackle or takeaway, but most of the time opposing players can’t beat him 1v1.

 

The overall skill and grace Varane shows in his technical ability with the ball is a sight to see, and Varane’s skill and athleticism is all effortless. The French defender often looks like he is just jogging around when he easily outpaces attackers and passes the ball around with ease.

 

Raphaël Varane is a monster of a center back, and he is the undisputed best defender of his generation. Varane even looks much better than the legendary French defender Lilian Thuram.

 

 

The Effect on the Ballon d’Or Race

 

With both Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo years away from slowing down, it will be interesting to see how Neymar, Pogba, and Varane affect the Ballon d’Or race. Neymar has already been knocking on the door for about two years, but now Pogba has to be considered a serious contender from now on. Varane will likely be at somewhat of a disadvantage as a defender, but his grace, speed, and solid defending will certainly make him an undeniable contender for years to come.

 

How long will the Ballon d’Or be a two-man race?

 

 

Seleção 23-Man World Cup Roster (January 2014)

 

Maicon has returned to form with Roma. Photo: (Tony Gentile/REUTERS)
Maicon has returned to form with Roma. Photo: (Tony Gentile/REUTERS)

 

A Seleção 23-Man World Cup Roster (January 2014)

 

Felipão has stated that either Kaká or Ronaldinho will go to the 2014 World Cup, but not both, so the race is on between two footballing legends and masters. Of the two, Ronaldinho Gaúcho is The Grandmaster.

 

Kaká has been playing for Milan with energy, speed, creativity, and passing and attacking skill and vision, and Ronaldinho is Ronaldinho.

 

No one can deny that an inspired Ronaldinho is a monster of a footballer and still perhaps the most gifted current player, if not ever.

 

Atlético Mineiro might have lost early at the FIFA Club World Cup, but that Ronaldinho free kick golaço was ruthless, magical, and unstoppable.

 

Nevertheless, as with the choice between Kaká and Ronaldinho, the problem for Felipão and O Canarinho is deciding which players should go to the World Cup. The Seleção now has an abundance of totally complete center backs (zagueiros), and the Seleção also has many attacking midfielders and forwards to chose from.

 

Really, Brazil is just absolutely loaded with players at every position, and more and more world-class Brazilian players keep making their case for inclusion on the 2014 World Cup squad.

 

In almost six months, the 2014 World Cup will begin, and a lot can happen. When the time comes, players like Pato, Robinho, and perhaps Ronaldinho might prove to be just too good to exclude from the roster.

 

Despite the quality of Germany, Spain, Italy, and others, Brazil is truly the clear favorite to win this World Cup.

 

Brazil is often every non-Brazilian’s second favorite team (with the exception of Argentineans), and Brazil is the team that neutrals love to watch and support.

 

From an American perspective, Brazil’s ability to constantly have so many world-class players at its national team’s disposal is hard to even fathom, if it weren’t a reality that soccer fans everywhere have grown accustomed to.

 

Brazil can beat your national team by four goals, and the loss will just be dismissed be the frequent excuse of, “It was Brazil.”

 

Without further delay, below is World Soccer Source’s 23-man currently-preferred Brazil World Cup roster, which is somewhat an approximation of Felipão’s ideal roster and somewhat this writer’s preference (and several world-class players have been omitted due to Brazil’s depth):

 

GOLEIROS: JULIO CESAR (Queens Park Rangers; rumored to be moving), JEFFERSON (Botafogo), RAFAEL (Napoli)/GABRIEL (Milan).

 

ZAGUEIROS: THIAGO SILVA (Paris Saint-Germain), DAVID LUIZ (Chelsea), DANTE (Bayern Munich), DEDÉ (Cruzeiro)

 

LATERAIS: MAICON (Roma), DANIEL ALVES (Barcelona), MARCELO (Real Madrid), ADRIANO (Barcelona)

 

CABEÇAS DE ÁREA: LUIZ GUSTAVO (Wolfsburg), CASEMIRO (Real Madrid)

 

VOLANTES: PAULINHO (Tottenham), RAMIRES (Chelsea)

 

MEIAS: KAKÁ (Milan), OSCAR (Chelsea), ROBINHO (Milan), WILLIAN (Chelsea)

 

ATACANTES: NEYMAR (Barcelona), PATO (Corinthians), LEANDRO DAMIÃO (Santos), LUCAS (Paris Saint-Germain)

 

SNUBS: RONALDINHO (Atlético Mineiro), BERNARD (Shakhtar Donetsk), FRED (Fluminense), FERNANDINHO (Manchester City), JÔ (Atlético Mineiro), MIRANDA (Atlético Madrid), MAXWELL (Paris Saint-Germain), FILIPE LUIS (Atlético Madrid), HERNANES (Lazio), DIEGO (Wolfsburg), MARQUINHOS (Paris Saint-Germain), LEANDRO CASTAN (Roma), CÁSSIO (Corinthians), GANSO (São Paulo), RALF (Corinthians), FELIPE ANDERSON (Lazio).

 

 

World Soccer Source’s Brazil Starting XI:

Julio CESAR; MAICON, Thiago SILVA, David LUIZ, MARCELO; Luiz GUSTAVO, PAULINHO; KAKÁ, OSCAR, NEYMAR; PATO.

 

 

World’s Best XI (December 2013)

 

Neymar, the New King of Brazilian and World Football. (Photo: Jorge William / O Globo)
Neymar, the New King of Brazilian and World Football. (Photo: Jorge William / O Globo)

 

World’s Best XI (December 2013)

 

GOALKEEPER: Manuel NEUER (Bayern Munich)

The Bayern Munich goalkeeper and Germany number 1 is a total monster in goal. Victor Valdés is arguably playing just as well or better. Both Gigi Buffon and Iker Casillas are still arguably the two best goalkeepers.

 

RIGHT BACK: MAICON (Roma)

Maicon the Marauder is back to playing his best football full of attacking assaults and ferocious defense. Maicon’s supposed decline and drop in speed and fitness was off base. The Brazilian right back is still better defensively than Daniel Alves, and Maicon perhaps is more influential when playing for the Seleção than Daniel Alves.

 

CENTER BACK: Raphaël VARANE (Real Madrid)

The French prodigy is only surpassed by Thiago Silva, and both David Luiz and Dante are more experienced and arguably better.

 

CENTER BACK: Thiago SILVA (Paris Saint-Germain)

 

Hands down the best center back in the world. Almost universally considered the best center back in the world. The skill level of Brazilian center backs is becoming ridiculously good.

 

LEFT BACK: MARCELO (Real Madrid)

 

David Alaba has a major bone to pick here with Marcelo, and Alaba is equally as deserving. Nevertheless, Marcelo is a remarkably fast and skilled left back whose defensive skill and ability to use both feet have skyrocketed in recent years.

 

CENTRAL MIDFIELDER: Paul POGBA (Juventus)

 

The French prodigy is listed as a central midfielder because he is a totally complete midfielder who is hard to box up into a restrictive category such as defensive midfielder, box-to-box midfielder, or possibly as a soon-to-be regista.

 

CENTRAL MIDFIELDER: Arturo VIDAL (Juventus)

The Chilean box-to-box midfielder is regarded by many as the most complete midfielder in the world. The Juventus midfielder is arguably the best defensive midfielder in the world, and his technical-ability and his attacking skill are as good or better than his defending. Every club wants Vidal.

 

RIGHT ATTACKING MIDFIELDER: Cristiano RONALDO (Real Madrid)

Cristiano Ronaldo uses both feet with the same perfect technique and his speed is virtually unmatched. The Portuguese winger or forward is a goal-scoring machine and arguably the best and most-skilled player in the world.

 

CENTRAL ATTACKING MIDFIELDER: Thomas MÜLLER (Bayern Munich)

Thomas Müller is easily the most-gifted and best current German footballer. Müller can play any position in the attack, and as a central attacking midfielder his style of play is very similar to Kaká’s, which uses a combination of attacking at pace with exceptional passing and vision. Other players might be better pure playmakers, but Müller is a gifted playmaker and complete attacker without any flaws. Müller is a big game player, and he backs up what he says before games.

 

LEFT ATTACKING MIDFIELDER: NEYMAR (Barcelona)

Neymar is the New King of World Football. The Brazilian sensation is a dazzling footballer, and he is the jewel of world and Brazilian football.

 

STRIKER: Mario BALOTELLI (Milan)

For many people, several strikers are better than Mario Balotelli, but the Italian and Milan striker is technically-perfect with both feet and the best athlete in world football. Italy’s number 9 has the size and athleticism of an NBA player while still being a graceful magician with the ball at his feet. Balotelli is a big game player, and his abilities range from being a dead ball specialist to being a clinical finisher. Balotelli has a full arsenal of tricks and a thunderous shot with both feet. The Italian is the only striker with a chance of being in Ronaldo’s league as far as first strikers go.

Fabio Caressa once said that Balotelli could play every position in the attack.

 

 

 

 

Seleção: Futebol Arte Mixed With Elite Defending and Athleticism

 

Neymar, the New King of Brazilian and World Football. (Photo: Jorge William / O Globo)
Neymar, the New King of Brazilian and World Football. (Photo: Jorge William / O Globo)

 

Under Dunga and Mano Menezes, the Seleção were never playing Brazilian football the way Brazilians and lovers of Brazilian football wanted them to play, and Brazil’s coaches stopped using the greatest advantage Brazil had over any national team or club team: superior skill and creativity.

 

Under Felipão who was obviously not new to coaching Brazil, other national teams, or high-profile club teams, Brazil combined three things: 1.) elite defenders with the technical skill of elite midfielders; 2.) intimidating and highly-skilled defensive midfielders who weren’t just providing defensive coverage; and, 3.) attacking midfielders and forwards who returned Brazil to the glory days of the likes of Pelé, Sócrates, Zico, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, and Kaká.

 

Brazil now has the best defenders in the world, and Brazilian defenders and defensive midfielders are by and large tall and strong athletes who are also technical masters.

 

What Felipão and Brazil did was use bigger, faster, and more athletic defensive players who were also highly-technical and creative players who played soccer the Brazilain way, which has proven to be the best and most successful form of football in all of world football.

 

While not all of the Starting XI is set in stone, Felipão has formed a cohesive group of players while still allowing some minor adjustments and changes in players depending on circumstances and the form of the players.

 

Brazil’s line-ups and tactics make sense, and the players who are often the substitutes are honestly better than most players starting for other national teams.

Read more

The World’s Best XI (2013)

 

Paul Pogba. (Photo: AP/LaPresse)
Paul Pogba. (Photo: AP/LaPresse)

 

World Soccer Source’s World’s Best XI

Disclaimer:

This list includes some criminal snubs of players like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

There is no excuse for snubbing them, but the reason that there were snubbed is because World Soccer Source believes this XI to be a more complete and well-balanced team without them.

This is extremely controversial, but World Soccer Source didn’t snub them for the sake of controversy; the intention was to have a balanced midfield and attack that included box-to-box midfielders like Arturo Vidal, Paul Pogba, and Kevin-Prince Boateng who are exactly the type of players needed to win back possession in the midfield and heavily contribute to the attack.

With the exception of Julio Cesar and Hulk, one could almost just select the Starting XI for the Seleção in the 2013 Confederations Cup Final and essentially have the World’s Best XI.

Here is World Soccer Source’s World’s Best XI (Formation: 4-1-2-1-2):

 

GOALKEEPER: Gigi BUFFON (Juventus/Italy)

Gigi Buffon, along with Iker Casillas, has long been recognized as the best goalkeeper in the world, and he shows no sign of slowing down.

Snub: Iker CASILLAS (Real Madrid/Spain)

 

RIGHT BACK: MAICON (Roma/Brazil)

With Maicon’s return to the Seleção and his excellent form at AS Roma after serving a prison sentence with Manchester City, Maicon the Marauder, reclaims his spot as the most terrifying right back in the world. The Brazilian combines fantastic and intimidating defense with inspired runs down the sideline. Of all the right backs in the world, Maicon is the one that defenders really do not want to see coming at them. Stong, skilled, and fast, Maicon also brings with him a tendency to smash outside of the foot shots from distance that are usually dipping, swerving, and on target.

Snub: Daniel ALVES (Barcelona/Brazil)

 

CENTER BACK: Thiago SILVA (Paris Saint-Germain/Brazil)

Thiago Silva is internationally-recognized as the best center back in the world. A totally flawless defender with blazing speed, graceful defending, and technical ability. Easily the best center back in the world.

Snub: Raphaël VARANE (Real Madrid/France)

 

CENTER BACK: David LUIZ (Chelsea/Brazil)

There was a time when people criticized David Luiz for being a walking yellow card, but the Brazilian defender has become a more elegant tackler while still being the most technically-skilled center back in the world along with Thiago Silva. After David Luiz played his first game with Chelsea, no one made any comments about David Luiz being a soft Brazilian defender who would have trouble adapting to England again. David Luiz’s goal-line sliding save against Spain in the 2013 Confederations Cup Final was impossible.

Snub: DANTE (Bayern Munich/Brazil)

 

LEFT BACK: MARCELO (Real Madrid/Brazil)

The best left back in the world without question. Marcelo used to be somewhat lacking in his defensive abilities, and he used to be one-footed. Not any more. Marcelo is very hard to beat with pace, and he has developed a knack for dispossessing opponents only to take the ball and dribble and pass his way out of the back without losing possession. No left back in the world rivals Marcelo in the attacking category.

Snub: Mattia DE SCIGLIO (Milan/Italy)

 

CENTRAL MIDFIELDER: Paul POGBA (Juventus/ France)

The French phenomenon is so complete that no one knows what midfield position he is really playing. He isn’t a trequartista or a true number 10, but Pogba is a complete midfielder and a freak of nature. While not as athletic as Mario Balotelli, Pogba is an incredibly athletic and technically-skilled midfielder with no flaws. Standing at 6’4” with zero body fat, Pogba combines power with elegant passing and ball control. Pogba is so good that World Soccer Source selected him over Andrea Pirlo, who himself is one of the greatest midfielders to ever play the game.

Snub: Andrea PIRLO (Juventus/Italy)

 

RIGHT MIDFIELDER: Arturo VIDAL (Juventus/Chile)

The Chilean is a ruthless midfielder who defends without mercy and without being reckless. Vidal is as talented on the ball and in the attack as he is as at defending, and his style of play has earned him the nickname, “The Warrior.” Vidal is an essential component to making a Starting XI to beat any opponent because, like Paul Pogba, he is a totally complete midfielder who would start for any team in the world, including the Brazilian national team.

Snub: RAMIRES (Chelsea/Brazil)

 

LEFT MIDFIELDER: Kevin-Prince BOATENG (Schalke/Germany & Ghana)

Underrated and underappreciated, Milan fans are now seeing just how good Kevin-Prince Boateng is, and Milan fans are missing him. Boateng has proven that he can make a huge impact in any game against any opponent, and his playing style is one of the most unique in the world, as he combines trickery with physicality powered by a crazed mentality to win. Boateng is another complete midfielder who can score with either foot, take defenders off the dribble, and emphatically dispossess opponents with fantastic slide tackles. Boateng plays very much like a Brazilian, and Boateng’s unique combination of skills makes him a player who is ready and able to face any opponent at any time. Boateng has a fantastic collection of golazos to his name, and until he played for Milan, only Jürgen Klopp and those who had played with him knew just how good he was.

Snub: PAULINHO (Tottenham/Brazil)

 

PLAYMAKER: RONALDINHO (Atlético Mineiro/Brazil)

Ronaldinho is still way too good to keep off a World’s Best XI, and probably no footballer ever has been as technically-gifted as Ronaldinho. When Ronaldinho is inspired to play, no one in the world is better than he is. Ronaldinho’s vision and technical-ability is unmatched by anyone, and even now he continues to provide strong performances and a steady stream of goals, assists, and highlights. Until Ronaldinho is no longer physically-fit to compete at the same level, Ronaldinho remains the greatest playmaker and the most-talented player in the world. Ronaldinho’s ability to never suffer a serious injury is often over-looked by critics who call him fat and past his prime. The ability to avoid injuries is a testament to his fitness and longevity as a player. Avoiding injuries while being hacked and fouled so much is truly an art form.

Snub: OSCAR (Chelsea/Brazil)

 

FIRST STRIKER: Mario BALOTELLI (Milan/Italy)

Mario Balotelli is the best first striker since Ronaldo and Thierry Henry. There’s never been a footballer with Balotelli’s athleticism, and his physique has never been seen before in world soccer. The scariest aspect about Balotelli is that not only are his technical ability, physique, and athleticism basically better than everyone else’s, but he is a merciless competitor with ice in his veins. Balotelli brings everything to the first striker position: a sniper’s accuracy, a perfect first touch, unmatched speed and strength, and a full arsenal of tricks and striking techniques. The Italian prodigy is famous for his penalty kicks due to the fact that he’s never missed one in a competitive match and due to the fact that he looks into the goalkeeper’s eyes throughout the entire process of approaching the ball to strike it. Balotelli is the King of the Paradinha, and no defender in the world can really contain either his skill, his athleticism, his size, or his strength. The Milan striker and Italian number 9 shouldn’t be dismissed as just an incredible athlete with great technical skill because his technical skill matches any footballer on the planet. After UEFA Euro 2012 and after the 2013 Confederations Cup, most of Balotelli’s harshest critics faded to black.

Snub: Zlatan IBRAHIMOVIC (Paris Saint-Germain/Sweden)

 

SECOND STRIKER: NEYMAR (Barcelona/Brazil)

Neymar is not only the best Brazilian footballer since Ronaldinho Gaúcho but the best footballer of any nationality since Ronaldinho as well. Neymar’s 1v1 dribbling abilities and tricks surpass those of Pelé, Diego Maradona, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Lionel Messi. In his first games with Barcelona, Neymar has been more dangerous and effective throughout matches than Messi, but Messi continues to have the ability to finish free kicks or score anything when there is a glimpse of the goal. With Barcelona, the Brazilian has been displaying his passing and his ability to improve his teammates, but he has also displayed the ability to penetrate European defenses and create scoring opportunities for himself better than Messi. Neymar’s performance against Spain in the Confederations Cup Final and his seamless transition to La Liga and European football show that Neymar is poised to have a breakout season in just his first season with Barcelona. As an attacker, Neymar’s ability to leave any opponent for dead is unmatched, and his finishing with both feet is off the charts. The Brazilian is without a doubt the greatest player of his generation, and he will only continue to improve and collect trophies and individual awards.

Snub: Thomas MÜLLER (Bayern Munich/Germany)

 

OTHER SNUBS: Lionel MESSI, Cristiano RONALDO, Andrés INIESTA, XAVI, Philipp LAHM, Luiz GUSTAVO, Franck RIBÉRY, FALCAO, Robert LEWANDOWSKI, Mario MANDZUKIC, Jordi ALBA, Leonardo BONUCCI, Giorgio CHIELLINI, Daniele DE ROSSI, Tony KROOS, Mario GÖTZE, Blaise MATUIDI, David ALABA.

 

 

Neymar Has Adapted to European Football

 

Neymar. (Photo: Vanderlei Almeida/AFP)
Neymar. (Photo: Vanderlei Almeida/AFP)

 

It only took a few games for Neymar to fully adapt to European football and playing with Barcelona.

The Neymar critics have been circling around like vultures for the last few years with the bizarre logic that the best Brazilian player of his generation would somehow not be able to cut it in Europe, despite an abundance of video evidence showcasing incredible ball control, creativity, and athleticism on the club and international level.

Even after Neymar and Brazil humiliated and dominated Spain in the 2013 Confederations Cup Final with skill, athleticism, physicality, and psychological warfare, the Neymar critics still doubted whether Neymar would be able to mesh with Lionel Messi and fit in with Barcelona’s style of play.

The uniqueness of Barcelona’s style of play is somewhat of a historical fallacy because one-to-two touch soccer based on a passing and moving without the ball has been the recognized gold standard of world football since Pelé and before.

Even people who hate soccer and know nothing about it know that Brazil is the best soccer nation in the world, and most of the best soccer players come from Brazil. Even Americans who hate soccer associate soccer excellence with Brazil.

Therefore, it’s a mystery why so many people in the United Kingdom and in Europe insisted on perpetuating the ludicrous opinion that Neymar would struggle to adapt to La Liga, Barcelona, and Champions League football.

Over the last few years, Neymar’s body has filled out and matured quite a bit, even if he still has a thin physique as his natural body type, and it is surprising that more of Neymar’s detractors didn’t notice that Neymar was becoming more muscular and taller.

From the very first game of this summer’s Confederations Cup, Neymar announced to the world with his electrifying goals, assists, and overall play that critics would be eating their words.

The final nail in the critics’ coffin was the ruthless left-footed half-volleyed goal that Neymar scored near post by crushing a shot off the bounce straight at Iker Casillas’ face, even though Casillas, arguably the best goalkeeper in the world along with Gigi Buffon, had the near post covered.

The cold-blooded nature of that goal and the ability and confidence it took to pound it straight at Casillas’ head in the Confederations Cup Final should have silenced the critics once and for all because once he repeatedly scored and excelled against the best national teams and embarrassed Spain on international television, what more did Neymar need to do to prove that he was ready for European football?

As Barcelona’s season began, the critics were still out in full force saying that it would take Neymar a while to adapt to Spanish and European football until Neymar scored the game-winning header off a Daniel Alves cross to beat Atlético Madrid in the first leg of the Supercopa de España.

Not only did Neymar score, but by scoring a contested header with his head, Neymar showcased his complete skill-set to doubters who viewed him as a soft player who wouldn’t put himself in harm’s way.

Neymar knows how to compete in a physical sport while still avoiding injuries and protecting himself from reckless and dirty players.

In Neymar’s most recent game, which was against Sevilla, Neymar outplayed Messi, and Neymar showed that not only adapting to Spanish football but thriving was mere child’s play for a player of his abilities.

The Brazilian sensation’s real battle will be to win enough trophies and individual awards by continuing to balance individual brilliance while still being a player who plays for the team and makes his teammates better.

More so that Cristiano Ronaldo and maybe Messi, Neymar is likely a player who is better-equipped to make his teammates better while still distinguishing himself as the best player on the field.

Neymar wants the crown and the glory, but he will likely achieve both by not competing against his peers but by competing with his own standards and doing what is needed to win games.

Cristiano Ronaldo definitely views Messi as a competitor just as he viewed Kaká as a competitor, but like Tiger Woods, Neymar seems to only be competing with himself.

Contesting the fact that Messi is the world’s best footballer is considered blasphemy, but the 21-yeard-old Brazilian master looks to be a more complete player, who unlike Messi, uses both feet interchangeably and who is a more gifted passer with a bigger arsenal of individual skills to score and best opponents.

The problem for Neymar will be winning the Ballon d’Or four times with players like Mario Balotelli, Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal, and many others around.

If the Brazilian maintains his relaxed personality and his big-game mentality, then focusing on success with Brazil and Barcelona will also bring the individual awards.

 

Brazilian Tactics for the USMNT

 

Neymar's left-footed golaço past Iker Casillas. (Photo: AP Photo)
Neymar’s left-footed golaço past Iker Casillas. (Photo: AP Photo)

 

Supposedly, the United States Soccer Federation has been studying Brazilian soccer for years, and looking at some of the young MLS players and younger American products, maybe the USSF and MLS are placing a higher premium on technically-skilled players than they used to.

Nevertheless, Brazil’s Confederations Cup formations and starting line-ups are a good case study for the USMNT, even if the USMNT doesn’t have players who are as skilled as the very best Brazilian players.

The Seleção is the model that U.S. Soccer should look to study and emulate.

Brazilian soccer is based on skill and allowing the players the freedom to express themselves with the ball, which is Brazil’s main weapon against opponents, but Brazilian soccer is not without defense, tactics, or strategy.

Brazilian players are allowed the freedom to be more creative with the ball than other national teams, and Brazilians don’t base their attack on merely sending in a steady stream of crosses into the box without a clear target. The premium on working the ball around mostly on the ground is so high that many of the passes that the Brazilian national team executes in its own final third are very risqué by other national teams’ standards.

After a series of games intended to find his best formation and combination of players, Felipão found a strong and balanced Seleção XI right before the 2013 Confederations Cup started.

Traditionally, Brazil uses a 4-2-2-2 formation, but the Confederations Cup formation was more akin to a 4-2-3-1 where the right attacking midfielder and left attacking midfielders were really almost forwards.

There was nothing new or revolutionary about Felipão’s tactics, but they were well-designed and perfectly implemented. In the 4-2-3-1 formation, Brazil mostly used this XI below:

Julio Cesar; Daniel Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Marcelo; Luiz Gustavo, Paulinho; Hulk, Oscar, Neymar; Fred.

 

The Seleção almost always exclusively uses two center backs, who have the technical ability and speed of a defensive midfielder, and outside backs that provide width to the attack while always defending the flanks with speed and skill.

In front of the defense, Brazil normally uses two defensive midfielders: one who is more of a midfield destroyer (Luiz Gustavo) and another who is a box-to-box midfielder (Paulinho).

These two players were one of the keys for Brazil’s success because they brought needed defensive skills to a midfield that allowed Brazil to win the ball back without sacrificing technical ability. They also ran without tiring.

There is some important background information about Brazil’s use of defensive midfielders.

It’s fairly well-known that Brazil uses a system of normally two defensive midfielders. One of them plays deeper and doesn’t really go forward, and this midfield destroyer is called a cabeça de área or a volante de contenção. In addition to this player who is associated with the number 5, there is also a more box-to-box midfielder who is associated with the number 8 and called a “volante.” “Volante” is a general term for any defensive midfielder, and it means “steering wheel.”

In front of these two defensive midfielders, Felipão used a line of three attacking midfielders where Oscar was the playmaker (meia-armador) in the middle and Neymar and Hulk were really almost forwards just lining up out left and right on paper.

Likewise, Jürgen Klinsmann has begun to at least iron out a tactical formation. Recently, Klinsmann starting using a 4-2-3-1 formation where two different kinds of defensive midfielders lined up behind three attacking midfielders and a striker. At times, Klinsmann used two strikers during the Gold Cup.

Klinsmann’s switch to the 4-2-3-1 formation was a deviation from his previous use of three defensive midfielders, but Klinsmann has still never fielded three highly-skilled attacking midfielders like Landon Donovan, Joe Benny Corona, and Clint Dempsey at the same time.

In the Gold Cup, a midfield destroyer was used next to an attacking midfielder (Stuart Holden or Mix Diskerud), who was impersonating a box-to-box midfielder, who both lined up behind a line of three attacking midfielders, and this formation and its tactics are covered in detail in other recent World Soccer Source articles.

This formation is somewhat similar to what Felipão used during the Confederations Cup.

Klinsmann is well-aware of how Brazil plays and surely studied their tactics during the Confederations Cup closely, but looking at how Brazil played and why it worked is something that Americans and non-Americans might be wise to do.

This Brazilian midfield formation outlined above is something that Klinsmann has used with the USMNT, but many of Klinsmann’s right and left midfielders in World Cup qualifiers have been players who are either married to the sideline or just looking to play crosses or both.

Klinsmann has used Geoff Cameron as a midfield destroyer with Michael Bradley as a box-to-box midfielder, and in Gold Cup games without Bradley or Cameron, Klinsmann has used Joe Benny Corona as a playmaker flanked by attacking midfielders on the right and left with a striker up top.

The system that Brazil used is a perfect example for the USMNT to study and implement, even if it isn’t as good as the Brazilian version.

Certainly, the USMNT can use a similar set-up to Brazil, which other national teams and clubs also use, even if the overall skill level of all the players is nowhere near Brazil’s.

Tactically, the balance of that Brazilian squad was perfect.

The team was difficult to beat with speed or skill down the middle, and the flanks were patrolled by outside backs, who posed a two-way threat.

Additionally, when the outside backs attacked, the defensive midfielders dropped back to fill the hole left by the outside backs.

Finally, with a playmaker like Oscar combining with Neymar, Hulk, and Fred, the attacking threat was too much for Spain who were humiliated by Brazil in the Confederations Cup Final.

For all the stereotypes of Brazil not defending, Brazil’s 2013 Confederations Cup squad showed not only good team defense through pressing, but they also displayed outstanding individual defenders in the line of two defensive midfielders and in the defensive back four.

This system is essentially what Jürgen Klinsmann is trying to implement with the United States Men’s National Team, and frankly some of his player selections do not seem to have the physical gifts and skills to fulfill their required roles.

To Klinsmann’s credit, in the Gold Cup, he did use a formation that was similar to Brazil’s, but now it’s time to put the higher-level players together in a balanced starting line-up.

The USMNT hasn’t yet used outside backs or center backs like Brazil uses, and given how obvious it is to start Geoff Cameron, Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, Joe Benny Corona, Clint Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore as the Front Six, Klinsmann will have to start using faster and more skilled center backs who are flanked by modern outside backs who pose an attacking threat and who defend out wide.

While Brazil uses Daniel Alves at right back and Marcelo at left back, Jürgen Klinsmann refuses to use any of the new MLS outside backs like Chris Klute, DeAndre Yedlin, or Andrew Farrell who at least attempt to play with the same aggressive attacking style down the sideline and who can defend skillful and quick attackers.

At center back, Klinsmann has never fielded two players who combine athleticism, technical ability, and the defensive skills of quick, strong, and talented defensive midfielders like Geoff Cameron.

The Brazilian way is one way for the United States to start improving its level of play, but Jürgen Klinsmann will have to field the players with the right tools because the Brazilian way is rooted in having technically-gifted players at every position, even the most defensive positions.

 

NEYMAR IS KING. BRAZIL DESTROYS SPAIN

 

Neymar's left-footed golaço past Iker Casillas. (Photo: AP Photo)
Neymar’s left-footed golaço past Iker Casillas. (Photo: AP Photo)

 

Neymar’s Triumph. Neymar’s Glory.

In a grudge match between Brazil and Spain with the Confederations Cup trophy on the line, Brazil was out to show the world that Brazil plays the best soccer in the world and that Spain is only a poor imitation of Brazilian soccer.

Brazil destroyed and demoralized Spain in a 3-0 goleada that put the world on notice.

Brazilians like Luiz Gustavo, Paulinho, and basically the entire Seleção set the tone from the initial whistle with ferocious tackling, intense pressing, and an outstanding amount of running that totally disoriented and dazed Spain like an Anderson Silva front kick to the face.

Brazil came out to play with so much intensity that Spain was engulfed and devastated from the opening kickoff.

The approach of the Seleção wasn’t purely psychological and physical intimidation, but rather Brazil brought its historic magic, guile, and trickery that had been missing from the Brazilian national team for several years until the beginning of the Confederations Cup.

Whether it was fueled by huge public protest about inadequate public services and infrastructure in Brazil or a growing sense of rage at the glorification of the style of soccer played by Barcelona and the Spanish national team, something motivated the Brazilians to deliver a level of overall intensity and collective group play that has almost never been seen out of Brazil.

Certainly several years ago, the Seleção displayed a degree of artistry and skill that made fans the world over want to watch Brazil play, but recently the Brazilian national team didn’t show the exciting and creative style of play that captivated audiences and made Brazil the pinnacle of world football.

Spain really was metaphorically body slammed and drop kicked out of Maracanã by the feared yellow jerseys of Brazil, and the emotional state of the Seleção totally disrupted the way Spain liked to play. While Brazil was very aggressive in its tackling, very few tackles were dirty or overly rough.

Brazil played like they really resented all of the praise that Spain has received for their smooth and graceful passing, which Brazilians fell like is a style of soccer that was invented in Brazil decades before Barcelona or Spain starting playing that way.

While Neymar was fantastic in his passing, his movement of the ball, and his overall display of talent, his left-footed golaço scored on Iker Casillas was particularly ruthless.

Without any hesitation, Neymar flamethrowered a left-footed shot at Casillas’ face, which went right over Casillas’ head due to the fact that the shot had to have looked like a blurr to Casillas.

Neymar’s left-footed golaço sent a message around the world like his other goals in the tournament have done, and this particular goal said “Even if you cover the near post, I can still crush a left-footed shot right at your head, and you still won’t have a chance.”

It was a sensational goal that should silence critics.

Spain enjoyed more possession, but it didn’t appear that way when one was watching the game as Brazil was constantly winning the ball back, darting toward the Spanish goal, and stringing together one-touch passes.

In a way, Spain and its players were not even a storyline, as their play was totally eclipsed by the attacking and defensive intensity that hit Spain like a tidal wave for the entire 90 minutes, and any chances Spain had were either rejected by diving saves from Brazil’s goalkeeper, Julio Cesar, or on one occasion a seemingly impossible sliding clearance that David Luiz somehow managed to clear over his own goal, despite making his interception on his own goal line.

Brazil almost bullied Spain, and any fouls on Neymar or any other Brazilian player were met with severe warnings from the rest of the Seleção, as they often surrounded and intimidated players from the Spanish national team.

The Brazilian weren’t violent or dirty, but they did seek to psychologically intimidate Spanish players like Sergio Busquets, Álvaro Arbeloa, and Gerard Piqué.

Spain was devasted by the Seleção in a true goleada that seemed to signal the return of Brazilian soccer to the top of world soccer.

While Spain has its passing and possession, every Brazilian national team player is equally or more capable of passing the ball like Spain, but the Brazilians have the additional element of superior individual skill on the ball, which can embarrass opponents in 1v1 situations.

Brazilian soccer is back, and Neymar has announced to the world that just might be the king of world soccer, and the player par excellence.

The Canarinho won as a team, and Brazil under Felipão has displayed that it has elite players at every position who can devastate opponents with inspired collective play and individual brilliance.

Today, Brazil played with a fire that burned on the inside, and Brazil will have to learn how to demonstrate close to or the same level of intensity in future games, as opposed to not being active enough without the ball.

This Brazil-Spain matchup was one of the most exciting soccer games seen in a long time, and Italy, Spain, Brazil, and Germany are all displaying a very high level of play that should make for competitive and exciting games before and during the World Cup.

France has a new crop of young players who may prove to be a force to be reckoned with, but Brazil showed that they have the capacity to thoroughly embarrass Spain. Now, Germany is the next team that Brazil has to prove itself against.

Anyone who doubted Brazil or Neymar should take a good, hard look at the passing, scoring, and overall skill that Neymar showed in this tournament against elite competition, and Brazil’s doubters should look at how skilled, complete, and deep Brazil is at every position.

Futebol arte is back, and Neymar is its king.

 

FIFA MATCH REPORT:

 

http://www.fifa.com/confederationscup/matches/round=255211/match=300222461/summary.html

 

GLOBO ESPORTE MATCH REPORT:

 

http://globoesporte.globo.com/jogo/copa-confederacoes-2013/30-06-2013/brasil-espanha.html

 

MARCA COVERAGE (SPANISH AND ENGLISH VERSIONS):

 

http://www.marca.com/eventos/marcador/futbol/2013/copa_confederaciones/final/bra_spa/

 

http://www.marca.com/2013/06/30/en/football/national_teams/1372577474.html

 

 

Balotelli vs. Neymar: Italy 2-4 Brazil

 

Brazil was far more dangerous in the attack, but any look back at Italy’s two to four loss to Brazil has to be prefaced with the caveat that Daniele De Rossi and Andre Pirlo were unavailable to play and that Paulinho was being rested by Brazil to let his ankle recover.

 

Brazil deserved to win, and particularly Neymar’s third goal in three games was a free-kick golaço that had nothing to do with Italy’s line-up and everything to do with Neymar’s steady string of big performances on the world stage.

 

It’s worth repeating that Brazil too was a missing a vital player in its midfield: Paulinho. As one of the world’s best box-to-box midfielders and Luiz Gustavo’s partner in the defensive section of the midfield, Brazil was without one of its key ball winners and main protagonists in the midfield, and yet still Brazil won.

 

If Italy was missing De Rossi and Pirlo, then it’s fair to note that without Ramires even on the roster as a replacement for Paulinho, Brazil was itself missing half of what Italy was missing.

 

Both Italy and Brazil were without at least one major midfield piece, and this affected how Italy and Brazil played.

 

Without Pirlo and De Rossi, Mario Balotelli lacked two of the players who are most responsible for either ensuring that Italy has a strong percentage of the possession or providing Balotelli with final balls or at the very least, a steady stream of service.

 

Gigi Buffon was blamed for two of Brazil’s goals as he blocked two of Brazil’s shots as opposed to catching them, and given his skill level, perhaps blocking them was all he was able to do, despite what the commentators said.

 

One of Buffon’s blocks was purposely played away from the goalmouth but Brazil’s central defender, Dante, a native of Salvador where the game was played, pounced on the rebound and was in ecstasy as he scored in the Arena Fonte Nova, home of the team that he has been a fan of since childhood, Bahia.

 

Even without Pirlo and De Rossi, Italy was totally guilty of conceding the third goal to Brazil when Fred outmuscled the much stronger Giorgio Chiellini in the penalty box to roof a left-footed shot into the upper 90 on the left side of the goal.

 

In many ways, Brazil scored two legitimate goals, and Italy only scored one.

 

With a possible offside on Brazil’s first goal, a Neymar golaço on the second goal, a well-deserved goal by Fred on the third goal, and a mishandled shot by Buffon on the fourth goal, Brazil scored two totally legitimate goals compared to Italy’s one legitimate goal scored by Emanuele Giaccherini off a balletic backwards flicked assist by Balotelli.

 

Neymar versus Balotelli and Italy versus Brazil in this first Confederations Cup encounter doesn’t tell the whole story.

 

Even without De Rossi and Pirlo, Brazil deserved to win, but in the duel of Neymar versus Balotelli is far from over.

 

Neymar stole the headlines with his free kick golaço, but Balotelli’s backwards volleyed assist to Giaccherini was outrageously brazen. Neymar won, but Brazil almost had to resort to wrestling and kicking Balotelli to stop him.

 

The Confederations Cup isn’t over, and Balotelli and Neymar offer the world the chance to perhaps see the world’s most talented second striker (Neymar) and the world’s most talented first-striker (Balotelli) face off against each other again in this tournament.

 

Balotelli has learned how to keep his cool, and Neymar has learned how to body check and get more physical with opponents, in the hopes of deterring them from fouling him too much.

 

This new physicality was new from Neymar, and perhaps it brings him one step closer from being immune to comments from doubters who say he doesn’t have the physicality to play in Europe.

 

Neymar unfortunately hurt Ignazio Abate with his body check, but it was time for Neymar to start knocking people off him.

 

Some observers like to dismiss the absence of certain key players as the reason for a win by the other team, and other observers view the absence of key players as a valid and important piece of analysis.

 

Neymar and Balotelli both performed, and Italy and Brazil both advanced out of the group stage.

 

The battle between Balotelli and Neymar continues, and the additional subplot of seeing how Neymar and Balotelli compare to Spain loams on the horizon.

 

Balotelli and Neymar are coming for Messi, and Brazil and Italy are both coming for Spain…and Germany.

Neymar Silences His Critics Again

 

Neymar scores a golaço again. (Foto: Jefferson Bernardes / Vipcomm)
Neymar scores a golaço again. (Foto: Jefferson Bernardes / Vipcomm)

 

Two Confederations Cup games and two volleyed golaços from Neymar.

 

Even more spectacular than Neymar’s left-footed volleyed goal was the display of 1v2 dribbling through the Mexican defense to the left of the goal along the endline.

 

Neymar beat two Mexican defenders with an outrageous nutmeg that one rarely sees executed against international caliber defenders like Mexico’s, and this audacious display of skill allowed Neymar to break through the defense and assist Jô for Brazil’s second goal.

 

Neymar is often labeled a diver or a showman or both, but once again, Neymar showed how his magic and trickery are effective at producing results.

 

Commentators, writers, and fans frequently question how Neymar will be able to perform in Europe, as if Brazil isn’t a competitive soccer environment, but Neymar has shown two games in a row in a major FIFA tournament, the Confederations Cup, how he is able to play at the same level in international tournaments as he has played in Brazil.

 

There were a variety of riveting highlights and tricks from Neymar in Brazil’s win over Mexico, but Neymar was also the author of the first goal and the assist on the second goal.

 

With his crucial involvement in the victory over Mexico and just like his role in the win over Japan before, Neymar cannot continue to be labeled as merely a YouTube sensation or an unproven player who hasn’t proven himself against strong competition.

 

With the eyes of the world watching him in a major international tournament, Neymar was effective and electrifying again.