Not just Neymar: Tite plans Brazil’s attack at World Cup

SAO PAULO (AP) — The wingers, false nines, target men and centre-forwards in Brazil’s World Cup squad are giving coach Tite a nice headache of selection up front.

While the five-time champion is aiming to win the title for the first time in 20 years, Tite also knows his attack has limited experience on the sport’s biggest stage. It’s something he hopes will be matched with an abundance of skill, speed and aggression to worry – or terrify – opposing defences.

Tite will have nearly a week of training in Turin, Italy, to get himself into shape.

The nine forwards in the 26-man squad are Neymar, Vinicius Jr., Rodrygo, Richarlison, Raphinha, Antony, Gabriel Jesus, Gabriel Martinelli and Pedro.

Only Neymar, from the 2014 and 2018 World Cups, and Jesus, Brazil’s starting striker four years ago in Russia, have tournament experience. The other seven will make their World Cup debut in Qatar.

Tite said he planned to use all nine. The main decision is where to play Neymar, a regular starter for 10 years. The coach leaned towards a formation with Neymar adopting a supporting midfield role in attack, like ‘a bow behind three arrows’, according to Tite.

With Neymar as the midfielder-forward, Brazil’s most promising starting line-up includes Vinicius on the left, Richarlison as a target and Raphinha on the right. Many expect that to be the chosen option in the opener against Serbia on November 24. Switzerland and Cameroon are also in Group G.

The alternative would be to place Lucas Paquetá on the left in a position where he could move into midfield. It was often the case in World Cup qualifying, but Brazil would pick a player recovering from a shoulder injury over Vinicius, who scored Real Madrid’s winner in the League final. champions this year.

“Brazil were very predictable for a while due to their reliance on Neymar,” Brazilian great Zico said in September. “Now he’s just the icing on the cake, the guy who will bring something more. Brazil have other players up front. Lots of players.”

Richarlison, who has scored seven goals for Brazil in his last seven internationals, will likely have Neymar behind him. Vinicius – or Paquetá – and Raphinha will be allowed to focus on their attacking skills as likely left and right-backs Alex Sandro and Danilo are expected to play more defensively.

If Vinicius and Raphinha fail, Martinelli and Antony will warm up on the bench. Jesus and Rodrygo can also play on the flanks. If Paquetá starts and struggles, Tite could still field a rested Vinicius or Martinelli.

Tite’s team also leaves three players on standby if Richarlison fails.

Jesus has improved as a finisher since the tournament in Russia and is also nimble enough to open gaps that box-to-box midfielders such as Fred and Bruno Guimaraes can exploit. Rodrygo can do the same as Pedro was the top scorer in the last Copa Libertadores.

Pedro, who has scored 12 goals in 13 appearances for champions Flamengo, could become the team’s main striker during the World Cup. Tite has previously praised the player’s ‘unique’ style and said he has the ability to ‘follow the quick thinking of midfielders’.

The experience could also influence Jesus’ entry into the starting line-up when the tournament moves to the knockout stage if Brazil, as expected, drop out of their group. Four years ago, Jesus failed to score in Russia but says he’s ready to make an impact this time around.

Many were unhappy that Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino, Atletico Madrid’s Matheus Cunha and Flamengo’s Gabriel Barbosa weren’t chosen. And Brazilian great Ronaldo, who scored both goals against Germany in the 2002 World Cup final, said 16-year-old striker Endrick de Palmeiras should have been selected.

“If I could take one, just to be part of it, with little chance of playing for real, I would take Endrick,” Ronaldo said on his YouTube channel. “It would be a sensational experience for him and for the future of the national team.”

AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup

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