Coutinho in the spotlight
Liverpool playmaker among a clutch of new talent fuelling Brazil's rise
VENEZUELA v BRAZIL
Wednesday (Oct 12), 8.25am, Singtel TV Ch 109 -Eleven
Philippe Coutinho's patience is paying off.
After two years of playing understudy, he finally gets to be the puppet master.
When Brazil visit Venezuela for their South American World Cup qualifier on Wednesday morning (Singapore time), the 24-year-old Liverpool playmaker will be out to cement his place in coach Tite's starting line-up.
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Coutinho will start his second match in a row for Brazil after impressing in the 5-0 rout of Bolivia last week.
Before the game, Tite said he felt it was time to give Coutinho his chance, ahead of Chelsea's Willian, after his impressive performances for Liverpool.
The diminutive star repaid the faith, celebrating his first start under Tite with one goal and one assist.
He will be counted on to play an even bigger role against Venezuela as Brazil will be missing star man Neymar through suspension.
His supporters will expect Coutinho to thrive under the spotlight.
Under Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp, he is flourishing.
His tally of four goals in eight matches across all club competitions bears testament to his form, fuelling the Reds' rise to fourth in the English Premier League table, two points behind leaders Manchester City.
In Tite's first two matches in charge of the Selecao, Coutinho was still able to conjure up magic coming off the bench.
Against Ecuador, his introduction for Willian on the hour mark shifted Brazil's play up by a couple of gears, as they struck three late goals to secure a 3-0 away victory.
In the following game, Brazil and Colombia were deadlocked at 1-1 until Coutinho came on in the 66th minute. He subsequently set up Neymar for the winning goal in a hard-fought 2-1 win.
Of course, Coutinho is not the only reason Brazil are steadily exorcising the ghosts of their darkest day, when they were clubbed mercilessly by eventual champions Germany in the 2014 World Cup semi-final on home soil.
Liverpool teammate Firmino has also been in fine form and the duo combined well in the Bolivia win.
Like Coutinho, the 25-year-old forward's game has bloomed under Klopp, after a shaky first season on Merseyside when he didn't come close to living up to his £29-million ($49.46m) price tag.
Firmino, with four goals (in all competitions) for Liverpool, wasted no time in giving Tite a good first impression, scoring the team's final goal in the win over Bolivia.
And Brazil's new generation of stars doesn't stop there.
The gifted striker Gabriel Jesus, who scored twice on his senior debut (a 3-0 triumph over Ecuador last month) is still only 19 and already has three goals in three appearances.
Gabriel Barbosa, the 20-year-old Inter Milan forward, is not in the squad this time round, but it is unlikely he will be ignored for long.
Paris Saint-Germain defender Marquinhos, 22, is showing plenty of promise, while Real Madrid's 24-year-old Casemiro (currently injured) looks set to be a key cog in Brazil's midfield for years to come.
Two months ago, Brazil's Under-23s, led by Neymar, finally ended a stunning streak when they won the country's first football gold in the men's Olympic competition. Now, what looked like a tricky World Cup qualifying campaign appears to be on track under Tite after three straight wins.
Brazil have emerged from the abyss, and, by the time they finish against Venezuela, could be on top in South America once again, as they continue their march for redemption in Russia in 2018.
"Our attack was very fluid, creating opportunities. It was a great performance and we must try and continue on this path, and keep improving in every game."
— Brazil’s Filipe Luis, one of the goalscorers in the win over Bolivia