It sometimes gets lost because when it comes to the Selecao there is so much else to talk about. Stuff like Neymar, exorcising the pain of the 1-7 Mineirazo, Neymar's injury, Philippe Coutinho, Neymar's price tag, whether Roberto Firmino should play, Neymar's hair, Tite's wisdom, Neymar's tears... you get the picture. But Brazil's success thus far is built on a near water-tight defence, one that has conceded just once in their last seven outings.
(And, if you really want to get technical about it, that goal -- Steven Zuber's header for Switzerland in the opening group game -- could well have been disallowed for a push on Joao Miranda.)
It has been a hallmark of Tite's Brazil, a side that conceded just six goals in the 23 matches in which he's been in charge. Yet the curious thing is that, taken as individuals, this back four doesn't scream defensive solidity.
Going into the World Cup, the back four Tite envisioned featured Marcelo and Dani Alves as full-backs. The former is 30, and while most would agree he's one of the best left-backs in the world, few players of his standard attract (rightly or wrongly) as much criticism for their supposed defensive lapses. The latter, even more so, with the added wrinkle that he's 35 years old. Injury cost him a place at this World Cup and he was replaced by Danilo, a reserve full-back at Manchester City who started only 13 league games this past season, and Fagner, who has just five caps to his name.
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The performance of the centre-backs, though, has been even more remarkable, particularly when juxtaposed with their club campaigns. For a start, both Miranda and Thiago Silva turn 34 in September and are right on the cusp of when a centre-back is supposed to decline. Miranda started for an Inter side that finished fourth, 23 points out of first place in Serie A. He didn't have a poor season, but then neither was he the beast he was a few years ago on Diego Simeone's early Atletico Madrid teams. And it's certainly not a coincidence that Inter have already locked up his replacement (Dutch defender Stefan De Vrij, who arrives from Lazio on a free transfer) for next season.
Thiago Silva too was once the gold standard in his position, but he also has endured a rocky patch. He was stripped of the Brazil captain's armband and dropped entirely after the 2014 World Cup. And while Tite recalled him to the national side after taking over in 2016, initially he was on the bench as his club teammate Marquinhos partnered with Miranda. Which, in some ways, was ironic because Tite restored him as a starter for Brazil even as he was no longer an automatic choice for Paris Saint-Germain, which often opted for Marquinhos and the youngster Presnel Kimpembe. He has two years left on his PSG deal, but with a new coach, Thomas Tuchel, in charge his future as a regular at the Parc des Princes is by no means assured.
And yet Miranda and Thiago Silva, together with Alisson in goal and Casemiro in defensive midfield, form the defensive backbone of this Brazil team. After the game against Costa Rica, Tite, as he often likes to do, invited his assistant Sylvinho to join him for the news conference. The former Arsenal defender rattled off statistics that showed just how few shots Alisson had to face and how proud he was of his defenders, particularly the two in the middle.
You wonder whether the pair haven't been too hastily written off at club level. Whether experience is overrated, particularly at certain positions, is a hot-button issue among coaches and particularly directors of football. Younger players earn less money and have resale value, and that alone makes them valuable relative to those who are longer in the tooth. And that's before you add obvious qualities -- like agility, quickness and recovery times -- which tend to fade with age.
But the thing about World Cups is that we're talking about seven games. A fit professional who takes care of his body can get through it, even at 33. And the wealth of experience and leadership these two bring to the role is evidently valued by Tite. They've been close to perfect thus far, and he sees no reason to change, even though Marquinhos is very close to full fitness. Plus, youth may be the one thing that is overrated at international level. You're not really building for the future when major tournaments are so far apart. There are things that make sense at club level that have no place in the international game. Brazil aren't in Russia to gain experience and build a side that can win in Qatar. They're here to atone for 2014 and return with the trophy.
That said, no team has ever won the World Cup with a starting central defense aged 66. If Tite's hunch is right, if Brazil get it done, they'll be making history in more ways than one, proving that club form and international form are entirely different matters and scoring one for the old-timers.