Brazil must deal with expectations, and Colombia, in World Cup battle

Brazil must deal with expectations, and Colombia, in World Cup battle
Brazil fans gather outside the stadium in Fortaleza during a training session on Thursday. (Marius Becker / EPA)

The weight of expectations on Brazil has become so backbreaking that appointments were arranged this week for players to meet with a psychologist.

The team has played on occasion as if wearing invisible leg chains. The host nation expects nothing less than a World Cup victory parade down Paulista Avenue in Sao Paulo, and the mind doctor was tasked with helping players find their pressure relief valve.

What the shrink could not provide is what Brazil really needs: wisdom on a game plan. The team finds itself at crossed wires under esteemed coach Luiz Felipe "Big Phil" Scolari, and an injury and suspension have added to Mr. Big's burden of devising a strategy to confound Colombia in the quarterfinals.

At times, Brazil has been forced to abandon its traditional attack of advancing on short passes and resort to the long ball. Whether Scolari wants his players to bypass an underperforming midfield is unclear. Aside from Neymar, the one-name wonders -- Oscar, Fred, Hulk -- up front have been so ineffective at crafting scoring opportunities that they might soon be seeking anonymity by resorting to their surnames.

With one exception, Scolari has stayed the course so far with his personnel. There is one change he hopes not to make against Colombia: Neymar has gotten full-on treatment from an ailing thigh and knee. A starting role seems likely. Whether he can finish -- a goal and the game -- is a concern.

Another lineup alteration has been born out of necessity. Luis Gustavo, a defensive midfielder whose chief duty would have been to smother Colombia wunderkind James Rodriguez, is out because of too many yellow cards. That specific responsibility will be shared; Scolari hinted he might deploy three centerbacks, as he did in the championship year of 2002.

Without Gustavo, more players might have to focus on defense, and the sputtering offense might suffer further.

If the psychologist succeeded in getting the players to chill, they might be the only relaxed Brazilians nowadays.