World Cup 2018 team preview: Brazil is as battle-tested and machine-like as ever

Welcome to Yahoo Sports’ team-by-team 2018 World Cup previews. With less than a month to go until this summer’s tournament, it’s time to get familiar with each of the 32 teams participating in Russia. First up in Group E is Brazil.

For more analysis, lineup projections and predictions, head to our World Cup preview hub, bookmark it, and dig in to all 32 team previews, eight group previews, power rankings, features and so much more.

Outlook

Odds to win Group E: 80%
Odds to advance: 96.2%
Odds to win World Cup: 20%
Elo rank: 1
Yahoo Sports power rank: 2

Our writers say: The Selecao were expected to win the Hexacampeao – their sixth World Cup title – on home soil four years ago. You may remember seven reasons why that didn’t quite go to plan. But the demons of Belo Horizonte have been exorcized, and Brazil was the only South American team to cruise through qualification. Ryan Bailey

(Odds via BetOnline, converted to percentages – and therefore slightly exaggerated)

Philippe Coutinho, Neymar and Gabriel Jesus lead a fearsome Brazil attack into the 2018 World Cup. (Getty)

Basics

World Cup appearance: 21st
Best World Cup finish: Champion (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
2014 finish: Lost in the semifinals to Germany
Qualifying: Finished first in South America
Schedule: Switzerland (Sunday, June 17, 2 p.m., FS1), Costa Rica (Friday, June 22, 8 a.m., FS1), Serbia (Wednesday, June 27, 2 p.m., Fox/FS1)

[Group E preview]

Squad

Manager: Tite
Captain: Rotation
Top players: Neymar (F), Marcelo (D), Casemiro (M), Gabriel Jesus (F), Philippe Coutinho (M)
Full 23-man squad

Breakdown

Why they’ll win games: Brazil swept through CONMEBOL qualifying like no team has since 2000-01 Argentina. Tite has built a machine, with world-class talent fitting snugly into a defined system. That machine has scored 47 goals and allowed five over the past two years, mostly against World Cup opposition. The defense, anchored by Joao Miranda and shielded by Casemiro, can seem impermeable at times. And unlike the 2014 Selecao, this iteration isn’t utterly reliant on Neymar. The dazzling winger is simply one eye-catching piece of a beautiful attacking puzzle.

Why they’ll lose games: Tite has been tinkering a bit. That isn’t inherently bad. But it is a bit strange, given how consistently excellent his team was throughout qualifying. And there have been a few unfortunate bumps in the road in recent months. Dani Alves, Brazil’s starting right back, will miss the World Cup due to injury. Neymar’s fractured metatarsal seems fully healed, but Renato Augusto, a fixture over the past two years, has seemingly fallen out of the 11. And Thiago Silva, a potential liability, might replace Marquinhos at center back … for some reason.

How they’ll play: Few teams have ever married attacking flair with defensive solidity like the Brazilians do. Casemiro will sit in front of the back four and behind two more attack-minded central midfielders. His presence gives protection and security at the back, especially in transition. It also gives the front five, and even the ever-eager fullbacks, freedom to do their thing going forward.

Projected lineup (4-1-4-1): Alisson; Danilo, Thiago Silva, Joao Miranda, Marcelo; Casemiro; Willian, Paulinho, Philippe Coutinho, Neymar; Gabriel Jesus.

With Alves out, either Fagner or Danilo could start at right back. At center back, as mentioned, Silva appears to have usurped club teammates Marquinhos. In midfield, Augusto could still come back in – in which case Coutinho would probably slide out to the right. But it appears Coutinho will play central, with Willian wide right, against inferior group foes.

Rooting Guide

What makes them unique: Since Tite took over, 16 different players have worn the captain’s armband for Brazil. The rotation policy began as a clever ploy to avoid stripping Neymar – who had received criticism in the role – of the captaincy. Now it’s a unique, symbolic way of fostering shared responsibility throughout the squad.

Why to root for them: Because there was so much heartache in 2014. Way, way too much for many of those players to bear responsibility for. To see them undo all of it on July 15 in Moscow would be special. Oh, and they’ll entertain you in the process.

Why to root against them: Because you’ll be accused of glory hunting, and rightly so.

If you’re going to watch one game … None of the three really standout above the rest, so don’t wait; pick the first one against Switzerland.

More Yahoo Sports World Cup team previews

Group A: Russia | Saudi Arabia | Egypt | Uruguay
Group B: Portugal | Spain | Morocco | Iran
Group C: France | Australia | Peru | Denmark
Group D: Argentina | Iceland | Croatia | Nigeria
Group E: Brazil | Switzerland | Costa Rica | Serbia
Group F: Germany | Mexico | Sweden | South Korea
Group G: Belgium | Panama | Tunisia | England
Group H: Poland | Senegal | Colombia | Japan

Group previews

Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F | Group G | Group H

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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