RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil coach Tite has so many attacking options for the World Cup that he can hardly fit half of them into his team.
He promises to use as many of his forwards as he can in Qatar, though, no matter the opponent.
“There will be opportunities for all (Brazil's forwards)," Tite said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Whoever is in will be deciding the match, all have to be prepared. Every match might require a different characteristic.”
Tite and his coaching assistants Cleber Xavier and Cesar Sampaio spoke to the AP for about one hour at the headquarters of the Brazilian soccer confederation on Thursday, taking a break from their heated private discussions about how to put the final touches on their squad for the tournament. Their final team announcement is scheduled for Nov. 7.
The only Brazil forward who may be sure of a starting place in Qatar is Neymar, while the list of Tite’s other options includes the likes of Vinicius Jr., Raphinha, Richarlison, Antony and Gabriel Jesus.
In the team's most recent games, two friendly wins over African teams Ghana and Tunisia in September, Tite fielded lineups that were so attack-minded that critics back home wondered if that would be a realistic strategy against some of the other title contenders at the World Cup, which starts next month.
Tite, who is leaving his job after the tournament, insisted he won't shy away from his aggressive playing style in Qatar, regardless of who Brazil is playing. Brazil is in Group G at the World Cup with Serbia, Switzerland and Cameroon.
“We will make adjustments, we will not change our game plan," Tite said. "We will impose our way of playing.”
The Selecao may need plenty of goals in Qatar as Tite doesn't have nearly as many options in defense. Brazil has few top-class full-backs at the moment, while starting center back Thiago Silva is 38 years old. Defensive midfielder Casemiro also has yet to fully adjust to his new surroundings at Manchester United after leaving Real Madrid.
Tite doesn't think his defense will be a problem, though, as long as his players do one thing.
“Play your best at your club,” said Tite, adding he doesn’t pay much attention to criticism his players receive. “We listen very little to any noise coming from outside. What is outside remains outside."
Neymar, like Argentina's Lionel Messi, is facing huge pressure to deliver his first World Cup title — especially after being criticized for sub-par performances at the 2018 tournament in Russia.
Tite thinks the 30-year-old Neymar has matured both as a player and a person since then, and the striker has been in top form this season with Paris Saint-Germain.
“When Neymar says that at a given time he made a mistake it is beautiful. What an example. He is no superman, he is telling kids that at some moment they will also make mistakes, feel weak, have a stomachache, a headache. It is only human,” Tite said. “Some people know how to grow and evolve. And they are brave to say it when they make mistakes. That’s his maturity.”
The coach tried to shield his star player from the pressure by downplaying comparisons to Pelé, as Neymar approaches the Brazil great's record of 77 goals for the national team.
"He must leave that noise for others to speak about. There is no comparison. It is unreal, inhuman to compare different generations,” Tite said. “You can’t compare Pelé to any other. We can argue about who was the second best.”
Tite's assistant coaches have spent plenty of time over the last few years studying what the last three World Cup winners — France, Germany and Spain — did to prepare for the tournament. Many view Brazil and Argentina among the biggest favorites this time, as France is struggling with injuries while Germany and Spain are going through a rebuilding phase.
But Xavier said Brazil can't worry too much about their rivals.
“We are spending most of our energy on our work, our process," Xavier said. "We know Argentina has a somewhat finalized team, and Brazil too. We see England, France, Germany and Spain with some changes. We will only know for sure what those look like after the World Cup's group stage.”
As the World Cup nears and reports pile up on his desk, Tite's schedule is dominated by meetings with assistants while media requests come by the minute. The 61-year-old coach is doing his best to carry on without much anticipation, as if these were just normal working days.
“I only get anxious when people ask me how many days are still left for our first match,” Tite said. “That happens every day.”
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup