Roberto Firmino: Best Brazil foil for Neymar or just impact sub?
Brazil, 10/1 shots with Coral to win the next World Cup in 2018, have enhanced their record since former boss and captain Dunga returned as national coach to eight wins out of eight.
The latest Samba Boys victory, and last before the Copa America squads are announced for this summer, saw highly-rated Hoffenheim attacker Roberto Firmino come off the bench against Chile to net his second international goal in four caps.
Both of those Brazil strikes from 23-year-old Firmino have come as a substitute, but even on his first start in the 3-1 victory away in France he made a key contribution assisting Oscar’s equaliser.
With several of Europe’s elite reportedly tracking him, and question marks hanging over alternative forward options for Dunga, Firmino has surely, barring injury, cemented his place on the Samba Boys roster for tournament football.
All that remains to establish is whether he best serves Brazil playing as a false nine from the start or being a go-to tactic in the form of an impact sub? Both Firmino and Neymar are 5ft 9in, benefiting from low centres of gravity to give them great ball control.
Successful international squads give coaches options, though. This is where out-and-out six-foot striker Luiz Adriano, who is reportedly looking to leave Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk this summer, comes in.
Nine Champions League goals, heavily skewed by eight in back-to-back group stage games against Belorussian boys BATE Borisov, have put him in the shop window.
Until recently, there had been something of a Samba Boys snobbery about selecting players from weak domestic leagues around Europe.
The presence of Luiz Adriano and rumoured Chelsea target Douglas Costa in Dunga’s squad suggests those in form shall be rewarded no matter where their club football is played, but it’s notable they have the same number of caps as Firmino without goals to their names.
Diego Tardelli is the other central striking option used by Brazil since the World Cup, but he is now playing his football out in China for Shandong Luneng.
This journeyman best known for a loan spell at PSV Eindhoven in 2006/07, who will turn 30 before the Copa America, bagged a brace against bitter rivals Argentina, so remains in the frame for squad selection.
Although the target man type of centre forward is something of a joke in Brazil after the labouring efforts of Fred and Jo at the World Cup on home soil, it’s arguable that a presence pinning opposition centre backs down allowed Neymar space to be devastating.
Firmino lacks the physicality to do this sort of job, but has been effective from deep, running into or playing others into space. There is no better evidence of this than his winner against Chile.
Porto full back Danilo, who could be on his way to Real Madrid before or after the Copa America, found him with a through-ball and Firmino then rounded opposition keeper Claudio Bravo to tap in.
Still yet to earn five caps, it’s still very early to make a definitive judgment on Firmino, but punters should watch his progress and the all-Americas tournament coming up with interest