2014 FIFA World Cup: The Year of the Duck for Brazil?

Pato, Brazil
Pato, Brazil
Alexandre Pato Photo Credit Wikimedia Creative Commons

The beauty of Brazil’s attacking line was that it was simple.

Possessing a fearsome trio up top, Brazil dominated the 2013 Confederations Cup using a combination of one-named forwards: Neymar, Fred and Hulk.

Neymar offered the fleet-footed trickiness that makes Brazil the capital city of beautiful football; Hulk’s raw power, speed and athleticism, coupled with his strength and stature made him a force out wide; Fred, by any other name still, could score goals with just a flick of his head.

It was, at once, simple yet elegant, beautiful and easy to understand. Neymar would bamboozle defenders and shoot or find Fred in the box; Hulk would brush fullbacks aside and whip in a cross, or otherwise destroy the back of the net with a long-range shot; Fred mopped it all up.

For the club, Neymar and Hulk remain in tip-top form.

Yet in the months leading up to the World Cup, Fred has not. He has picked up numerous injuries and has been ruled out for two months with another thigh problem, leading to doubt whether the tall central forward will make Luiz Felipe Scolari’s final World Cup squad.

Up top, Brazil is already stretched thin. Besides Jô, Brazil doesn’t really have many players to call up in order to replace a player like Fred.

In the last World Cup, Luis Fabiano occupied this spot – he remains an option but he looks a shadow of his former playing self.

Neymar could be moved into the middle and play in a false nine position, leading to Robinho’s re-admittance into the starting line up. It’s certainly the most likely option, should Fred not recover in time. However, Brazil is already a team lacking presence in the box; besides David Luiz and Thiago Silva, the country lacks physical height to capitalize on corners or crosses.

Enter Alexandre Pato, otherwise known as The Duck!

Pato has been playing with Corinthians in the Brazilian Serie A, but has scored only nine league goals in 30 appearances. That is, however, despite his goalscoring ability, which, when properly supported, can be very potent.

He has been the victim of circumstance, less that of talent or work rate. Pato had to share the role of centre forward with Peruvian forward Paolo Guerrero and Emerson Sheik from Qatar. His is a style of play that requires more wide support but this is something Corinthians does not have in spades – rather, the team plays with numerous attacking midfielders like Augusto and Danilo in combination with defensive midfielders.

This left Pato wanting for wide support and not finding it often.

2014 promises to be a better year for Pato, though – he was recently sent to Sao Paolo on loan, with Jadson coming the other way. Jadson, by comparison, is an attacking midfielder that fits more with Corinthians’ style of play.

In Sao Paolo, Pato finally finds wide support in the form of Osvaldo, Welliton and Uruguayan left midfielder Alvaro Pereira. These players, alongside Paolo Henrique Ganso (an attacking midfielder) create a more ideal environment for Pato.

Still, Pato must compete against the aforementioned Luis Fabiano for a starting spot, but that should not prove too difficult – he is younger, fitter and offers more pace.

Pato has a handful of months to prove his worth and he should be aiming to score 10 goals at least in order to recapture the attention of Scolari and the coaching staff of Brazil. He has fallen from the headlines but at Sao Paolo, he could very well rediscover himself.

If Fred is unable to play at the required level come the big day, Robinho will surely fill in for Brazil – but if Pato can make a case for himself plying away in the Brazilian league, Scolari may just have found a replacement born of a need and a mighty duck.

In Alexandre Pato, there remains a quality lacking in Brazil’s other forward options – potential. What remains to be seen now is if potential, in the form of  a duck, can take wings and soar to greater heights.

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Armen Bedakian
Armen Bedakian is a soccer writer covering every aspect of the game in Major League Soccer and around the world. I love a crunching slide tackle, but can't stand a bad offside call. Follow me on Twitter - @ArmenBedakian