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Despite qualifying with ease, Brazil have areas to improve pre-World Cup

Despite qualifying with ease, Brazil have areas to improve pre-World Cup
From ESPN - October 8, 2017

While the other South American teams are still scrambling to collect enough points to get them to Russia, Brazil can look down on proceedings with a lofty disdain.It is hard to remember that after a third of the qualification campaign, they were down in sixth place in the table and with genuine concerns of not making it to the 2018 World Cup.Then Dunga was replaced by Tite, and the team, largely the same group of players, showed the difference that a quality coach can make.Brazil have not looked back since, putting together a superb sequence of results with a swagger and a style that recalls some of their great teams of the past.

But there are no prizes for crossing the line early. The only objective of qualification is to qualify, whether it be sailing through in first place or sneaking past New Zealand in the play-off.The hard work is still ahead. Which issues, then, do Brazil need to address to ensure that they are ready when it really matters -- in Russia next June and July?

Not peaking too soon

A few months before the last World Cup, Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari was confidence personified. "We have done the hard part," he said. "We have found our team."The lineup that beat Spain 3-0 in the final of the Confederations Cup was already fixed in his mind as the team to win the World Cup.

In retrospect, far too much importance was given to the Confederations Cup.And the idea of cementing a first-team selection a full year before the World Cup was also deeply flawed.True, Tite needs to show loyalty to those who have done so well under his command.But he also has to promote competition for places -- to give himself options in case of injuries and loss of form, and generally to keep the likely first-teamers on their toes.

Remember they have yet to face the best

Understandably enthused by the performances since Tite took over, some in the Brazilian media have proclaimed the team as title favourites for 2018.This would seem premature -- dangerously so if the coach were to fall into the same trap, which does not appear to be the case.

Recent World Cups have clearly demonstrated the superiority of the top Western European sides, who have provided five of the past six finalists.Moreover, the current crop of South American national teams, Brazil excluded, is surely the worst for some time.No other CONMEBOL nation has much cause to be happy with the way their team is playing.Second-place Uruguay are all but mathematically qualified but have played an uneasy campaign, and the remaining South American spots are still undecided.

The real tests, then, are still ahead.Brazil are trying to fix up a friendly next month away to England -- admittedly not among the top Western European teams, but interesting opposition nevertheless.And in March comes a visit to Germany.The genuine article, though, will be a competitive meeting with the Germans, the French, the Spaniards or the Belgians.

Defending the space behind the attacking full-backs

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