There are 99 days to go until Brazil kick off the World Cup against Croatia in Rio de Janeiro. There are just 63 days, however, until May 7, when Luiz Felipe Scolari announces his final squad. Hearts will be broken. Careers will be made. No squad in history will ever have been so scrutinised, so picked over and debated. Brazil in Brazil. It doesn't get bigger.
Until then, three friendlies remain, starting tomorrow against South Africa in Soccer City, Johannesburg. Though they haven't played a competitive game since beating Spain in the Confederations Cup final last June -- such are the burdens of hosting -- they've won the last five friendly instalments of their rolling global tour, most recently a 5-0 thumping of Honduras followed by a narrow 2-1 win over Chile.
For this one-off game against the 2010 hosts, Scolari has selected a slimmed-down squad. Perhaps the most notable absentee from last time is AC Milan forward Robinho, who scored the winner against Chile but hasn't featured heavily under his new club coach Clarence Seedorf. On the flip-side, Manchester City's midfield scurrier Fernandinho has played himself back into the picture, which he described as "an immense joy". Former QPR misfit Julio Cesar also keeps his place, a show of faith and/or necessity from his coach as his No. 1 keeper prepares to start playing football again in Toronto.
Kaka and Ronaldinho are missing again, which is sad but not all that unexpected. Time destroys all things.
However, while the squad is enviably strong at the back, in the middle, and in the fuzzy bits around the advanced edges and in the hole, where wingers and playmakers used to live but Neymar and Hulk now roam, the striking department is looking thin. Scolari's preferred option is Fluminense forward Fred, who injured himself after the Confederations Cup and is only just beginning to make his comeback. He makes the squad nonetheless, backed-up by Atletico Mineiro's Jo and big yawning spaces where Alexandre Pato and Leandro Damiao are supposed to be. Collapses in form of varying magnitude have seen them drop out of the national picture. Oh look, Spain have called up Diego Costa.
Their opponents South Africa also come into the game in decent form; they've won their last three games, including a remarkable 1-0 victory over world champions Spain at Soccer City. The wider picture, though, is less positive. Coach Gordon Igesund, whose contract expires in July, comes into the game under some pressure after dual failures in World Cup qualifying and the recent African Nations Championship.
Absent from the squad are Crystal Palace battleship Kagisho Dikgacoi, who pulled out with backache, and first-choice goalkeeper and captain Itumeleng Khune, who injured his ankle at the beginning of March ahead of a CAF Champions League game. He will be replaced in the squad by Senzo Meyiwa, but it's not yet clear who will be taking over as captain.
One final note: according to South African website Sport24, Brazil will be taking this opportunity to unveil both their new kits for the World Cup. They will play in their emblematic yellow for the first half, then switch to blue for the second. Modern football, eh?
South Africa: Meyiwa, Williams, Nthete, Khumalo, Mkhwanazi, Xulu, Ngcongca, Mokeke, Matlaba, Furman, Tshabalala, Claasen, Serero, Jali, Manyisa, Patosi, Mbatha, Zungu, Kekana, Parker, Rante, Ndlovu
Match date/time: Wednesday, 7:00 p.m. local, 12:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Soccer City, Johannesburg, South Africa
TV: SuperSport4 (South Africa), beIN Sports (USA), BT Sport 2 (UK), Sport TV1 (Portugal)
Online: beIN Sports Play