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Fernando Duarte has had a busy week. 

Fernando is a Brazilian journalist and writer. He has worked for many news publications including The Guardian, BBC and UOL. He has an extensive knowledge of Brazilian football, having followed the Selecao for the majority of his life. 

In the wake of his adored Flamengo team defeating Athletico-PR in the Copa Libertadore, Tite announcing his official world cup squad and the Brazilian presidential elections, Fernando still found the time to discuss perhaps the most important topic of all, the Selecao’s chances at this year’s world cup in Qatar.

It’s been twenty years since Brazil last lifted the World Cup Trophy with Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and Ronaldo leading the line in Japan. But with new starts emerging for 2022, Fernando talks us through the squad, the pre-tournament mood in Brazil and how it could be time for a change in hierarchy after this campaign. 

“Man, it was hell.” says Fernando. 

We began with perhaps the biggest talking point in the national side, Neymar. 

“Neymar since the generation of Ronaldinho and Ronaldo he is the main man,” says Fernando. “He’s the player that makes the difference and is the biggest talent in the whole squad.”

Neymar tops Brazil’s output charts in world cup qualifiers managing sixteen combined goals and assists, almost triple that of second place Richarlison with six. 

“In 2018 he wasn’t alright he wasn’t 100 percent he was carrying an injury” Fernando added. “Recently he had to change his style to be a bit more of an assistant.”

Neymar only managed two goals and one assist in Russia, something he will be hoping to improve on this winter. “And I’ve heard he’s been talking to people in confidence that he really wants to win this one. 

“But he’s at the peak of his powers and he’s not a kid anymore, this could be the title that will define his legacy.” Neymar missed out through injury on Brazil’s Copa America win back in 2019 and this world cup could be his final chance at international silverware for his country. 

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Moving onto the squad, just how far can Brazil go this year and is this the best squad Tite has had at his disposal? 

“It’s a much better squad than 2018 and 2014, I think the best since 2006.” he says. On paper, Fernando seems to be correct, Brazil likely has the strongest squad at the tournament reflected in their number one world ranking and odds as favourites at 4/1. 

“There is a potential lack of experience, but the core of this squad was in Russia.” 

Nine of that twenty three man squad now remain, and for many it will be their last chance at glory. 

Shown below is Fernando’s preferred lineup for Brazil’s opening fixture against Serbia. 

GK-Alisson RB-Danilo CB-T.Silva CB-Marquinhos LB-Telles CM-Fabinho CM-Casemiro CM-Paqueta LW-Vinicius Jr St-Richarlison Rw-Neymar. 

Can you give me two underrated players who made the squad, and one who was unlucky to miss out? 

“Lucas Paqueta has a massive role in this squad.” says Fernando, after moving to West Ham for £51.3million he will be hoping to dance all the way to the final. So confident with his feet, Paqueta is especially effective at circulating possession and circumventing the press. 

“And of course, Rodrygo for Real Madrid, people always forget him” Fresh from winning his first champions league, ‘Rodrygoal’ has registered a combined eight goals and assists in twelve appearances in La Liga so far this season. Although he is not tipped for starting, Rodrygo could be a crucial knockout stage substitute given his stoppage time impacts off the bench against Chelsea and Manchester City last season.

“Roberto Firmino would have got a chance but that’s the how the way things go.” Fernando admits he was surprised by Firmino’s exclusion given his previous World Cup experience. Although he has netted seven times in the Premier League already this season, a new wave of young attacking talent was preferred.

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What is the feeling around the national team in Brazil heading into Qatar 2022? 

“The passion, the universal passion is a bit gone, people are becoming a bit de-sensitised to the national team,” Fernando talks openly and honestly about how politics have clouded the national team’s spirit.

“There is a poll every year asking how many people care about the world cup in Brazil.” 

“The results were one of the lowest ever. It has to do with the association of the famous yellow strip with the far right in Brazil.” 

When the same poll was run ahead of the 2018 Russian World Cup, over half of Brazilians declared they had no interest in the tournament. Unfortunately, the yellow shirt of the Brazilian national team has been worn at rallies and adopted by far-right supporters of Presidential candidate Jair Bolsinaro to show support. 

Brazil’s 2022 elections did not prove to be a straight forward affair, with the national team dragged into proceedings. Neymar previously came out with a public message of support for Bolsinaro, while Tite has been unhappy with the “politicization” of the national team. Time will tell if any of this has a decisive effect on the pitch.

How important is Tite to Brazil’s success? 

“In 2016, Tite moulded the team into a very organised unit.” says Fernando. After coming off the back of a disastrous 2016 Copa America – which saw Brazil knocked out at the group stage for the first time in 30 years – Tite has transformed the teams success, not losing a competitive match in over two years and qualifying for the world cup with 45 points from 17 games, a new South American record. Fernando was quick to point out just how difficult this was: “It’s an incredible record when you look at the qualifying system, 18 games is double what they play in Europe so it’s incredibly hard to be consistent.

“I do not agree with his devotion to some players who played with him.” Fernando is referring to Dani Alves, who Tite allegedly “promised” another chance to after his injury in 2018. “But overall, he’s the right man for the job.” 

Do you think this is Tite’s last tournament? 

“Yes, it’s time for a change, not many managers can complete two cycles, but Tite shouldn’t have a third.” he added. 

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Are there any replacements being talked about in Brazil? 

“There are many names, one being Abel Ferreira the Palmeiras manager.” Despite having an impressive record at club level, Fernando isn’t completely sold on him. “I think Brazilians would be up in arms if he was in charge, he plays a very defensive brand of football.” 

Other names discussed as part of the succession have been Gremio’s Renato Portaluppi and Flamengo’s Dorival Junior. 

And finally, Do you have a favourite world cup memory? 

“USA 94. I was 21 and it felt like my first proper world cup. It was such a special year as Ayrton Senna had died and we were bummed by his death but the whole country was buzzing for the tournament. There was the 5 goal game against Holland such a crazy roller coast game and obviously the final winning it on penalties. I choose the whole tournament because its my favourite memory.” 

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June 2024