Fred the key for Scolari

Fred the key for Scolari

His mononym may be a familiar one in Europe but, despite capturing attention with the occasional flash of inspiration during his four-year stint with Lyon, Fred is not a household name outside Brazil.

That could change quickly if he helps lead the Selecao to World Cup glory.

Fans of the five-time world champions have always obsessed over their strikers - players like Pele, Romario and Ronaldo have electrified football fans around the world - but, heading into a first World Cup on home soil since 1950, concerns have been raised over an absence of true stars up front.

Most irritatingly, Atletico Madrid hot-shot Diego Costa has turned his back on the country of his birth to represent Spain.

And while Neymar echoes the exciting style of play made famous by the likes of Ronaldinho and Garrincha with his playmaking ability, he can lack the killer touch required in the box when he is not scoring spectacular goals.

FOIL

He will not, therefore, lead the line for Brazil coach Luis Felipe Scolari, who will instead use the Nou Camp starlet as a young foil for a 30-year-old who regularly scores in a near-deserted Maracana Stadium.

Fred headed home to Brazil and Rio de Janeiro club Fluminense, after being released by Lyon in early 2009.

Strong in the air, intelligent and skilful on the ball, Fred soon became a fan favourite. He scored twice on his debut and broke Magno Alves' league scoring record when firing his 44th Brasileiro goal in 2011.

He had not featured for Brazil since 2007, but his exploits in the capital city earned him a place in the 2011 Copa America squad. And by the summer of 2013, he was firmly established as Brazil's first-choice No. 9.

He emerged from the bench to score against England at Wembley in the first game of Scolari's second spell in charge.

He stayed in the team and hit further goals against Italy, Russia and - once again - England, this time at the newlyrenovated Maracana.

The best was yet to come as Fred lit up the Confederations Cup with two goals against Italy, one against Uruguay, and two in the final victory over Spain.

Beyond his goalscoring prowess, he is highly skilled in distracting opposition defences and creating space for his teammates - a trait he used to devastating effect when freeing up Neymar to score a hat-trick in March's 5-0 victory over South Africa.

A succession of leg injuries threatened to wreck Fred's World Cup dream by sidelining him for four months in late 2013, but he has battled his way back to full fitness to make Scolari's squad.

Off the pitch, he has found religion and reined in some of his more extravagant habits - notoriety has followed him around the bars and nightclubs of Rio in recent years.

But Scolari, forever devoted to the idea of the traditional Brazilian No. 9, is banking on Fred retaining his maverick edge for a few weeks yet.

Twelve years after leading his country to World Cup glory in Japan and Korea back in 2002, Scolari is hoping lighting strikes twice this summer.

The 65-year-old, who was appointed as the replacement for Mano Menezes in November 2012, is a wily tactician with more than 30 years in management under his belt. Scolari previously led Portugal to the Euro 2004 final on home soil during his five years in charge.

But their Group A opponents will knowthe aura of invincibility surrounding Brazil has gone, having watched them crash out at the quarter-final stage in 2010 and 2006 and fail to progress beyond the last eight at the 2011 Copa America.

They bounced back to claim the Confederations Cup last year - taking apart Spain in a 3-0 rout in the final at theMaracana -and Scolari has moulded a settled team.

They are now particularly solid in defence - unusual for a nation so famous for their attacking prowess - with Julio Cesar in goal behind Daniel Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz and Marcelo. And, if they can live up to expectations, and Fred maintains his scoring form, they could be in for a tournament to remember.

This article was published on June 10 in The New Paper.

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