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Brazil has played South Africa, China, and now Iraq since losing the Olympic gold medal match. Why?
Brazil's collection of talent and depth at every position surpasses just about every nation on the planet. Only Spain, Argentina and Germany even approach them in either high-end quality or depth. Yet, there are plenty of legitimate questions about A Seleção heading into next summer's Confederations Cup.
Mano Menezes' senior team minus a couple of fairly important contributors has fallen to Mexico twice, in a friendly and in the Olympic gold medal match. They were steamrolled by Lionel Messi in a thrilling summer friendly that Argentina won 4-3. They were poor in the 2011 Copa America. A combination of form and injuries has turned their double pivot into a revolving door.
Whether it's because they want to build the confidence of a young side or because it's who they can make the most money off of, Brazil has scheduled a string of average opponents post-Olympics. They've laid beatings on Sweden and China, but struggled to overcome South Africa at home. During this international break, they're taking on Iraq and Japan.
On February 5, they'll take on England at Wembley Stadium. It will be the full Brazil team's first true road game against a team expected to qualify for the World Cup since they defeated Mexico at Estadio Corona on October 11, 2011.
People will continue to watch Brazil friendlies, both because Brazil are fun and because they want to see how this Brazil team is coming together. Unfortunately, it's tough to learn anything about a Brazil team who are playing average or below-average opposition, especially while their midfield is changing constantly.
Injuries aren't the fault of Menezes or the confederation, and both Rômulo and Lucas Leiva should be able to rise to the occasion if and when they return for competitive matches. The lack of continuity in midfield appears to have negative effects on results when Brazil plays good teams, but it might not be the biggest factor in their struggles, nor is it the most interesting thing about Brazil at the moment. The most interesting thing about Brazil is their decision to play substandard opposition, by choice, over and over again.
Here's a question I'd really love to hear the answer to: What the hell are Brazil doing playing matches against South Africa, China, and Iraq? What purpose does this serve?
Is it to build up young players' confidence? This seems like a bit of a ridiculous justification for their scheduling. The likes of Oscar, Neymar and Leandro Damiao don't need to be coddled. Damiao has a Copa Libertadores winners medal, Oscar starts in the UEFA Champions League, and Neymar has had the media spotlight on him since he was 16-years-old. How does an 8-0 win over China build up the confidence of players who have played in dozens of real games?
Is it to make money? Surely a game against Iraq doesn't make the Brazilian federation any more money than a friendly against a real team would. Spain, France, South Korea and Venezuela are all off on Friday, but Iraq is the best that Brazil could do? All those teams would love the payday and fantastic test that is playing against Brazil.
Manezes is less than a year away from potential competitive fixtures against Spain, Italy, Mexico and Uruguay that he will be expected to win, and the way him (and/or his bosses) have chosen to prepare Brazil for that test is questionable at best.
Brazil's two losses against Mexico and their loss to Argentina don't quite indicate a pattern, but if Brazil don't look great against England in February, more questions will have to be asked about what Brazil have been doing since their Copa America failure. If Menezes doesn't have the answers by June, he could find himself out of a job.