“It’s easy to find problems when you’re a five-time world champion."
As contradictory as that statement by Carlos Alberto Parreira might seem, it does make perfect sense. And it also shows why A Seleção are happy to have him on board as their technical director, to have someone tell them how it is, as he did on this occasion, on leaving the dressing room at the Maracana following one of Brazil’s most notable victories of the last few decades.
Parreira knows better than anyone what Brazil are up against. A FIFA World Cup™ winner as a fitness coach at Mexico 1970 and as head coach at USA 1994, he also took charge of the national team at Germany 2006.
As he knew only too well, no sooner would the nation start celebrating the memorable 3-0 defeat of Spain than people would begin raising doubts and asking questions: Was the team peaking too soon? Would such a handsome victory not put pressure on the team? Was there not a danger of the side becoming complacent and starting to believe the hype in the lead-up to the main event in 2014? In Parreira’s view, the answers to all those questions can be found in the figure of his colleague and fellow world champion, Luiz Felipe Scolari.
“This coaching team has a vast amount of experience,” Parreira told FIFA.com in the aftermath of last Sunday’s dramatic FIFA Confederations Cup Final. “Felipão is a world champion and so am I. Everyone on the team here – the fitness coaches, the doctors and the physios – are all world champions and they know exactly what we need and what we want.
“In the press conference after the final Felipão said the right thing, that this is just part of a process. We showed the fans what we can do and we showed the rest of the world that we are on the way to becoming dangerous opponents and to improving this team. But we’re not ready yet. We’ve come on a lot, but we still need a little bit of polish.”
What a difference a month makes
The speed of A Seleção's recent progress has taken everyone by surprise, including the people responsible for it. It is hard to believe that only four weeks prior to their triumph over Spain, Brazil came in for widespread criticism for playing out a lacklustre 2-2 draw against England at the Maracana.
Nor, in the wake of Luiz Gustavo’s superb tournament – capped by his exceptional display against Spain – does it seem credible that Felipão came in for some bad press for making this comment in his own inimitable style: “All that talk about a goalscoring midfielder is great for the media. It’s great for them, but it’s not so great for the coach or the team. When you’ve got attacking fullbacks like ours, like Daniel Alves and Marcelo, you need to have protection.”
The success of the current coaching staff is down to the decisions they have made and the fact they have stuck to them. Those decisions have included deploying a more withdrawn midfielder alongside Paulinho and maintaining faith in the central-defensive pairing of Thiago Silva and David Luiz, whose place in the team is now unquestioned. The roles of Julio Cesar and Fred as first-choice in goal and up front are also now secure. Meanwhile the link-up men behind the latter, such as Hulk and Oscar, have their defensive duties to fulfil, and Neymar is the team’s star man, the No10. As that all shows, there is a plan in place.
“Obviously we had to start a new cycle, and in response to that we drew up a strategic plan,” explained Parreira, before referring to the personnel and tactical changes he and his colleagues have made in the process. “If you look at the team for our first friendly against England (a 2-1 defeat back on 6 February), you’ll see it’s very different to the side today.
"The aim was to find a style of play and we’ve done that. When you’ve got 15 straight days to prepare for a tournament you can start to see a tactical plan coming together, you can work on details and bring back experienced players who were out of favour but whom we knew had potential.”
Ultimate target still remains
As someone who was also very much a part of previous coach Mano Menezes’ plans, and who has had to do more than most to adapt their natural game to the system adopted by Scolari and Parreira, Oscar has seen the whole process unfold at first hand. The Chelsea man is but one example of how the keys to success at Brazil 2013 involved much more than just the choice of playing personnel.
One of five players – alongside Marcelo, Thiago Silva, Hulk and Neymar – to feature in the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012 final and to start against Spain last weekend – Oscar told FIFA.com: “We needed time. We knew that this was a very talented generation, which has come through the Olympic Games and is now playing in the full national team.
"I’m not saying that we expected to hit this level so soon, because we didn’t, but I know we prepared really well. That’s because we spent a bit more time together, which we’d never done before.”
All in all, the formula seems to be a simple one: bring together a group of talented players with international experience, identify the tactics you want to use, train the side for a few weeks, put the tactics into practice, and look on as the team turns in one of the finest performances in the nation’s history, guaranteeing the support of the fans in the process.
As the ever-cautious Parreira explained, however, the reality is a little different: “The Confederations Cup gave us an opportunity to restore the confidence of the fans and to cook up that chemistry between the supporters and the team, which was amazing and something I’ve never seen before. But we know all that can change very quickly. Nobody should be under the impression that we’re going to rest on our laurels now, because we still haven’t achieved what we set out to do.”
Echoing that view, Oscar said: “The tournament showed that we’re one of the best teams on the planet, but that’s not the objective: winning the World Cup is.”