World Cup Preview — The favorite impresses

Brazil, host of this year’s World Cup and favorite to win it, warmed up for the task earlier this month with a 5-0 victory over a mediocre South African side in Johannesburg. Brazil has now won 13 of its last 14 matches, including a 3-0 victory over Spain, the reigning World and European champion.

Neymar, who has arrived at the super-star status long predicted for him, produced three goals. The other two were scored by English Premier League stars Oscar (Chelsea) and Fernandinho (Manchester City).

I was particularly impressed by “Fred” (Frederico Chaves Guedes), Brazil’s center-forward. Because he plays in Brazil, the only member of the starting lineup who does so, I only get to see him in international matches. My impression was that he’s an outstanding finisher (16 goals in 31 matches), which is just what Brazil needs given the numerous opportunities created by its skill players.

But against South Africa, Fred also showed himself to be a good passer of the ball. If he can create goals as well as score them, Brazil’s attack will be all the more devastating.

If there are questions about Brazil, they pertain mainly to the defense. Against South Africa, the central defensive pairing of David Luiz (Chelsea) and Thiago Silva had a few nervy moments.

Luiz is an immensely talented player, but not the safest defender around. Currently, he cannot find a place in Chelsea’s normal starting 11.

Thiago Silva is probably one of the best two or three center backs in the world. However, he’ll make the odd mistake or two on occasion.

So if I had the task of managing Brazil at the World Cup, I would pair Silva with a more pedestrian but steady centerback and use Luiz, if at all, in defensive midfield.

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