With a new coach, a host of fresh recruits and a different playing system, there have certainly been changes aplenty since coach Mano Menezes was handed the Brazil reins. Indeed, the popular supremo has made tactical changes across the board: urging A Seleção’s midfield men to play a fast-paced, short-passing game; freeing up his full-backs to push forward at will; and making subtle alterations to the positioning and movement of his attacking players.
However, something that has not changed since Menezes took over from previous coach Dunga is the importance of a solid central-defensive pairing, one which is given time to bed in and grow in stature. Lucio and Juan were the chosen duo from 2002 onwards, their partnership spanning two four-year cycles leading to the FIFA World Cup™ final tournaments at Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010. And though A Verde e Amarelo endured the disappointment of early exits on both occasions, the pairing was among the most watertight in Brazilian national team history.
Under Menezes the preferred twosome has been Thiago Silva and David Luiz of AC Milan and Benfica respectively, and they have already shown signs of stepping more than capably into the sizeable shoes of Lucio and Juan. In three games so far, against USA, Iran and Ukraine, the new Brazil have emerged with three wins and current No1 Victor has yet to concede a goal.
“We got on very well right from the off. I think David is someone who’s dedicated and focused on his profession,” Silva told FIFA.com on the remarkable chemistry of a double act whose roots only go back to August’s friendly in New Jersey. “We pretty much clicked just through the conversations we had and I think we complement each other well. I hope that our mutual understanding improves with every game.”
Following in iconic footsteps
“Juan and Lucio are both iconic figures and, aside from being top players and proven performers, they were always extremely professional,” said Silva on the heights he and his centre-back partner are aiming to scale. “They were the best defence in the world, but there’s a new crop coming through and we’re hoping to keep our places for a very long time."
Not that the Milan defender’s confidence should be in any way mistaken for complacency. “We’ve got a lot of responsibility on our shoulders, no doubt about it,” continued the former Fluminense man. “But Mano has made sure we stay calm and we’ve got the support of the whole squad. If we want to follow in their (Lucio and Juan’s) footsteps we need to have a positive approach out on the pitch. Only then will we be able to fill that gap.”
Moreover, Silva and Luiz also need to get used to their new-found status as fans’ favourites, more usually the preserve of creative midfielders and lethal attackers in Brazil, after being named as key members of the new Seleção in a poll by FIFA.com. “Just being in the squad is a source of satisfaction and pride,” said Silva, clearly determined not to get carried away. “I’m earning my spot little by little, step by step. Fortunately everything’s going well so far.”
Messi and Co to provide stiff test
The next challenge for the Brazilian backline will come in the shape of arch-rivals Argentina, in a friendly to be played in Qatari capital Doha on 17 November. Up against the fifth-placed team in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking and one boasting the likes of Lionel Messi, Angel di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain, the pressure on A Canarinho's fledgling centre-back pairing is sure to be much greater than during their three relatively comfortable prior outings.
“Taking on Argentina is special thanks to the quality of their team and also the fierce rivalry that surrounds this (South American) derby,” said Silva, who travelled with Brazil to South Africa 2010 but did not feature. “We played against United States on their home patch and that was a good test, just as the Ukraine game on European soil was. But this next match will be a huge challenge. The level of anxiety is much greater and I’m sure there’ll be nerves in the opposing camp too.”
That said, an assured display from Silva and Luiz against La Albiceleste would be another huge step on the road to emulating Lucio and Juan, with the latter duo starring in the 3-0 friendly victory over Argentina in September 2006 – which was only the second match of the “Dunga Era”. And despite being more experienced than their successors are now, with that match coming shortly after the pair had performed solidly at Germany 2006, the confidence Lucio and Juan took from that game helped cement their positions for the next four years.
Can Silva and Luiz, in Menezes’ fourth match in charge, smooth their path towards a similarly impressive tenure at the heart of Brazil’s defence?