Rebooted Brazil seeks redemption
Brazil has spent four years trying to atone for its last World Cup match, the calamitous 7-1 defeat as hosts by Germany. Popular coach Tite purged players, eased dependence on Neymar, and rebuilt a team that concedes few goals and blazed through qualification.
Those changes will be tested Sunday when the Selecao start their campaign for a sixth World Cup title at the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don against Switzerland.
Few embody Brazil's rediscovered spirit more than Gabriel Jesus, the 21-year-old Manchester City striker. Four years ago, he was photographed as a barefoot teenager painting the streets of his S,,o Paulo neighbourhood. Fast-forward to Russia, and he's a valued team resource, the top scorer in qualification with seven goals.
"I don't think of that [time] as suffering, but being Brazilian means being able to change," he said after training. "For anyone, striving for your goal is not suffering. It's a demonstration of courage. That's where our pride comes from."
Restoring much of its pride, Brazil was the first team to qualify for this World Cup, with 17 games unbeaten and a 3-0 victory over Argentina at the stadium where they had sustained the infamous semi-final loss to Germany.
Brazil's other Group E opponents, Serbia and Costa Rica, play in Samara on Sunday.
Making minor changes in friendlies, Tite appears to have settled on a core of starting players that trounced Austria 3-0 last week with Neymar, Coutinho, Casemiro, Paulinho, and Willian forming a semi-circle around Gabriel Jesus as the centre forward in a 4-3-3 formation. Danilo, Thiago Silva, Miranda, and Marcelo form the defence in front of goalkeeper Alisson.
"There is no way to predict how they will play," he said. "Switzerland has high-quality players, and they can play two or three different kinds of game ... . This will all be about understanding their plan A and plan B."