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Hour of reckoning for Brazil
One year out from the World Cup in Brazil, where victory for the hosts is being seen as a must, an inexperienced Selecao featuring young prodigy Neymar are hoping to take advantage of the Confederations Cup to fine-tune their preparations.
The five-time World Cup winners are hoping to go as far as possible in the competition, which starts on June 15, to win the traditional curtain-raiser to football's biggest prize for the fourth time.
Recalled last December to lead the charge for 2014 glory, master tactician Luiz Felipe Scolari has cast aside 30-somethings such as Kaka and Ronaldinho and is banking on youth to overcome a lack of match practice and an existential crisis.
For Brazil's young talent, notably Neymar, who recently completed a move to Barcelona, and Chelsea's creative midfielder Oscar, the Confederations Cup is a unique opportunity to get experience and confidence for the World Cup.
The average age of the squad is 26 years and six months. In 2010, the team coached by Dunga, at the World Cup in South Africa was much more experienced.
Currently, only four players retained by Scolari have previously contested a World Cup: Fred, Julio Cesar, Thiago Silva and Dani Alves.
In addition, 11 of the 23-man squad play at Brazilian clubs in a change from years gone by, when the South American giant struggled to hold on to its young players.
Both Neymar and Fernando were still at Brazilian clubs -- Santos and Gremio respectively -- when Scolari announced his Confederations Cup squad on May 14.
The former left for Barca just days later, then Fernando became the latest Brazilian to sign for Ukrainian giants Shakhtar Donetsk.
"Youth has its advantages. They're really keen. On the other hand, there are some things that only experience can bring," assessed Scolari, who guided Brazil to its fifth world title in 2002.
Experience includes the Confederations Cup, where Brazil open against Japan on Saturday, then take on Mexico on June 19 and Italy three days later.
Standing in their way to the title -- should they make the knock-out stages -- are likely to be current World Cup holders and double European champions Spain.
Brazil are still far from the top of the world rankings but Scolari has been given a glimpse of his side's potential after two successful Confederations Cup warm-up matches.
In the first, they drew 2-2 with England in the inaugural match at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana stadium, while on Sunday they beat France 3-0.
The France result especially will be morale-boosting for Brazil, given that it was their first win against major opposition since a 1-0 triumph against England in 2009.
It also could not come at a better time for Scolari, who has been calling for patience ever since his reappointment and mixed results in their diet of friendlies (one defeat, four draws and a victory).
"I've picked the side which will start against Japan in the Confederations Cup. I'm just very satisfied by my players' performances," he said on Sunday.
Scolari has found some answers to his main dilemma: how to achieve more defensive solidity without hampering the Auriverde's natural attacking style.
Up front, the forward line is looking good with the skilful Fred on point, supported by the artistry of Neymar, the strength of Hulk or Lucas and the creative Oscar.
Neymar shines less for the national side than at club level but he can still change the game at a single stroke, as he demonstrated on Sunday by his impeccable through-ball to Oscar, who opened the scoring against France.
At the back, captain Thiago Silva is seen as one of the best bossing central defenders in the world, while alongside him Dani Alves and Marcelo are good going forward.
They regularly create numbers in attack but that has forced Scolari to count on two solid central defenders -- Luiz Gustavo and Paulinho -- to secure the lines.
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