From Neymar to Jesus, Brazil’s brilliant forwards can turn any match in Qatar | World Cup 2022

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Reading the Brazil attacking options aloud would make any opposition manager feel a little nervous. Tite could start with Neymar, Vinícius Júnior, Richarlison and Raphinha and if things are not going their way he has Gabriel Jesus, Gabriel Martinelli, Rodrygo, Antony and Pedro in reserve. They will take some stopping in Qatar.

I have always had a soft spot for Brazil – I would buy the yellow and blue kit as a kid – because of all their incredible players. We are in another era of brilliant Brazilian forwards 20 years after they last won the World Cup, when Ronaldo led them to glory. They are on a great run of form, having not lost since their Copa América final defeat by Argentina in July last year. I think they will need to face their old South American rivals again in the semi-finals and whoever gets the better of that match will become champions.

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People keep saying how it could be Lionel Messi’s final tournament but it could be Neymar’s too, and both will be especially motivated by the prospect of a winner’s medal. It will be interesting to see which of those two Paris Saint-Germain teammates fares better. I think Messi will win the Golden Boot but Brazil have a slight edge over Argentina.

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Tournament football requires match-winners and Brazil have an array of them. Games are so close because of how data can be used to help set up a team to be compact and nullify threats, but Brazil’s starters and finishers can turn any match in their favour.

Tite has said it will be a case of horses for courses when it comes to selection. The philosophy of Brazil will never change but the coach may decide for a certain game he wants someone who can run in behind, greater physicality from Richarlison, or he could want to press more aggressively or overload in wide areas. Tite will have seen what Jesus has done since moving to Arsenal and may want to go with him. For one-v-one situations on the flanks, will he turn to Vinícius or Martinelli? Whatever he needs, Tite can look at his squad and pick accordingly and he will be spoiled for choice.

Behind that they will have a very experienced midfield and defence. Casemiro will be at the heart of it and everyone has seen the difference he makes to a team. Brazil will need to stop the transition, which is what Casemiro, Fred or Fabinho are in the side to do, because transitions will be hugely significant. The central midfield combination will have a big job because Brazil’s defence is ageing. On the upside, the older a player is, the more experience they have and that could be vital. There is not much Dani Alves and Thiago Silva have not witnessed and their presence could help their younger teammates.

Thiago Silva

Previously Brazil have not been a pressing team but they will now press from the front because they want to win the ball as high as possible. They may require fewer defenders because Tite will know if this plan works out, the ball is not going to make it into the areas where opponents can hurt them. I like that Tite is not going to change his principles and why would he with such an arsenal at his disposal?

On paper, Brazil should beat Serbia, Switzerland and Cameroon in their Group G games and score goals to ignite the campaign. If a team get a good start, it is a great boost. Everything in tournament football is anchored in momentum, helping to grow confidence as each successful match passes.

Dani Alves training with Brazil teammates in the runup to the World Cup
Dani Alves (left), training in the runup to the World Cup, is now 39 but brings essential experience to the highest stage. Photograph: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

Each team in this World Cup has a weak unit. France have lost their midfield from four years ago through injury, England’s back four looks fragile and Brazil’s defence is getting old. It will be a case of who manages their problem the best.

If England are to challenge, they will need to gather momentum. In international football I am a huge fan of experience and Gareth Southgate has gone with high cap accumulation in his squad – 820 between them. This is his third major tournament and it is the most caps he’s gone with. Kyle Walker’s fitness is unknown and Harry Maguire is not playing for his club, meaning the England defence will be desperate for an early morale-boosting clean sheet. Southgate also has options to bring on if he needs to win a game. A forward line of Phil Foden, Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling means England will score goals but it is the other end they need to pay attention to.

I would love England to make it to the final but I’m tipping Spain to get there. In last year’s Euros, Spain were knocked out by the eventual winners, Italy, on penalties in the semi-finals. Their young players have grown in maturity and understanding. The only problem is scoring goals. Brazil have goalscorers all over the pitch but that cannot be said of Luis Enrique’s side. Spain have a good opportunity if they can find a consistent scorer.

England will need fans behind them. Even though they are thousands of miles away, they will feel the support. If they are not to win it, hopefully I will have my second team to fall back on.

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