There has been a degree of hopefulness, in the last few days, in the desperate search for Brazil’s pressure point. Perhaps it’s the fullbacks: If Daniel Alves, his bubbling energy now finally starting to simmer at age 39, can get in the squad, the options cannot be outstanding.
Or maybe it’s the midfield: Perhaps Tite, the country’s coach, will be unable to resist the temptation to deploy his vast array of attacking talent, leaving Casemiro as the only overworked adult in the room. Or, at a pinch, it could be Neymar. Can Neymar be relied upon to deliver when it matters?
How to watch Brazil vs. Serbia: 2 p.m. Eastern. Fox, Telemundo, Peacock.
It all feels just a little desperate. There is no guarantee that Brazil will win the World Cup, of course, not least because of the quality of some of its rivals. Argentina and now Germany might have stumbled, but France, England and, thanks to a faintly harrowing demolition of Costa Rica on Wednesday, Spain have all shown their hand. The field is taking shape.
In the weeks before the tournament, the assumption was that Brazil was at the head of it. Tite has at his disposal a “golden generation,” as his Serbian counterpart, Dragan Stojkovic, put it. Stojkovic, for those with long enough memories, knows a thing or two about golden generations. There is no obvious pressure point. This is the best team Brazil has sent to a finals since it won the tournament in 2002; it is, in fact, a substantially better team than the one that triumphed in Japan 20 years ago. It has seen the standard. Now it is time to match it.