Legendary names like Pele, Zico and Ronaldo kept Brazil at the forefront of world soccer for generations, but
lately something is missing. Brazil has
not won a trophy for four years and its world ranking has slipped to an
all-time low as it prepares to host the FIFA Confederations Cup.
Just mention the name and you are thinking football.
Brazil is synonymous with the beautiful game. From Rio to Recife, soccer is more than a sport. It is an art form, a way of life and, to many, a religion in itself.
Brazilians like their football the way they like their music: Flair, spontaneity and excitement have long been hallmarks of the Brazilian game. Legendary names like Pele, Zico and Ronaldo kept Brazil at the forefront of world soccer for generations.
But lately, something is missing. The iconic canary yellow jersey does not inspire fear and respect among opponents the way it once did. Brazil has not won a trophy for four years and its world ranking has slipped to an all-time low.
The decline has been subtle but sustained. An aging team and a lack of coaching continuity have contributed to the slide. Superstars like Kaka, Ronaldinho and Luis Fabiano are all the wrong side of 30, leading to a generation gap that has weakened the team. None have been named to the 2013 Confederations Cup roster -- suggesting their international careers are effectively over.
Brazil's governing body -- the CBF -- has turned to an old hand to steady the ship and reignite the national team. Luiz Felipe Scolari, who led Brazil to its most recent World Cup triumph, in 2002, replaced Mano Menenzes in November 2012. But the reviews are mixed. Scolari's recent resume, which features a high-profile failure at Chelsea and a firing back home at Palmeiras, have led some to suggest Big Phil's best coaching days are behind him.
Scolari's reputation, and that of his players, will be under intense scrutiny at the Confederations Cup. Brazil, for so long the best team in the world, is no longer even the best team in South America. Archrival Argentina is well ahead in the ranking table, with Colombia and Ecuador in hot pursuit. At the last World Cup, Uruguay outpaced its continental competitors, reaching the semifinals in South Africa.
Part of the problem for Brazil is home advantage. Hosting is a huge plus, but some Brazil players -- particularly the new breed -- have virtually no experience in competitive international soccer. For them, the Confederations Cup will be the only chance to engage in full combat before the World Cup itself.
It is not all doom and gloom. In Neymar, Brazil possesses football's next superstar. The 21-year-old striker, already a seasoned Brazilian international, has just signed a multi-million-dollar deal with European giant Barcelona. Despite his tender age, Brazil is hoping Neymar's performances at the Confederations Cup will be a taste of things to come.
Scolari will be hoping another youngster can fulfill his potential. Oscar, like Neymar, is just 21 but is already establishing himself as the team's new playmaker. It is less than two years since Oscar announced himself with a hat trick to win the U-20 World Cup. Now he is expected to pull the strings for the senior team.
The 2013 Confederations Cup is a pivotal competition for Brazil. The hosts will benefit from fanatical support, but with that comes pressure and an expectation of success. The Samba beat has been absent for a while and Brazil needs to rediscover its rhythm.