While most of Europe's big guns prepare for qualifying matches for the 2014 World Cup next week, Brazil must again content themselves with another pair of friendly matches. With the Confederations Cup just around the corner, the seleção's matches against Italy (in Geneva - no, me neither) and Russia (at Stamford Bridge, of all places) are vital stepping stones - particularly given that Luiz Felipe Scolari's second spell in charge began with such an anodyne performance against England.
These are the key questions that Felipão will hope to find answers to over the next fortnight:
Number nine or not?
Before Scolari took over, Mano Menezes stumbled across a system that brought the best from a number of his key players. His strikerless set-up allowed Neymar and Hulk the freedom to exploit spaces out wide, while encouraging Oscar and Kaká (of whom more later) to burst forward. Felipão, however, went for more traditional tactics at Wembley, using Luís Fabiano as a number nine. It didn't work: the striker looked well off the pace and barely had a touch of the ball. If Scolari intends to maintain a focal point in attack he'll have to look elsewhere, although none of the options is particularly compelling: Leandro Damião, who once seemed a shoo-in for the role, has endured a difficult few months and looks low on confidence; Fluminense forward Fred is a finisher par excellence but is not getting any younger; and Hulk has played centrally for Brazil before with no success. The best plan of all may be to restore Menezes' fluid model, but Scolari isn't always one to bow to common sense.
Who to navigate the midfield minefield?
Ramires and Paulinho are fine players but struggled to assert themselves against England. Neither is an outright defensive midfielder - Ramires likes to bound forward from deep, while Paulinho specialises in stealthy runs into the area - which has led many in Brazil to express doubts over their viability as a long-term midfield partnership. The selection of two more destructive players, Luiz Gustavo (Bayern Munich) and Fernando (Grêmio), suggests that Scolari will be more cautious this time out. There is, though, another intriguing alternative...
Can Scolari find a place for David Luiz?
The emergence of Bayern Munich defender Dante over the last few months seems to have put one debate to bed: he, rather than David Luiz or Dedé, is in pole position to partner Thiago Silva at the World Cup. Scolari, though, is a fan of Luiz, whose purposeful thrusts have been a real asset to Brazil. It has been mooted that the 25-year-old could be accommodated in midfield - a move tested by Rafa Benitez with some success earlier this season. An all-Chelsea midfield of Luiz, Ramires and Oscar is not beyond the realm of possibility.
Is Kaká back for good?
After Ronaldinho Gaúcho failed to repay Scolari's faith against England, the coach has turned to another old hand. Kaká has never been a regular for Real Madrid but his performances against Iraq and Japan indicated that he still has plenty to offer the seleção. The question is whether Scolari sees the 30-year-old as a long-term solution or just as a stop-gap. Oscar has already stamped his authority on matches at international level, and young players like Bernard and Lucas are also emerging as options for the attacking midfield roles. The competition will certainly be tough over the last 18 months - although Kaká's experience should be a key factor.
Will Neymar bounce back?
Yes, he had a poor game against England, but some of the Neymar-bashing in the UK media verged on Zlatanitis ("He never does it in the big games," yadda yadda). It is worth remembering that, for all his exploits for Santos, the 21-year-old is still very much learning his trade at international level (even if his record of 17 goals in 27 games suggests otherwise). More worrying, perhaps, is the amount of pressure on Neymar to make things happen single-handedly when Brazil aren't playing well. Such responsibility weighs heavy on young shoulders.
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