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21st Century Best XI: Brazil

David Gorman picks his best eleven of 21st century Brazil internationals.

Who gets the nod at right back? And does Neymar make the cut?

Read on for David's team and the reasoning behind his choices.


Goalkeeper: Julio Cesar

Julio Cesar hit the heights of his career in 2010 when he won the treble with Inter Milan and was the world’s outstanding goalkeeper in that season. Around that peak, he was a very solid goalkeeper for Brazil and Inter, not particularly standing out at any particular skill but being a reliable stopper and having a good reading of the game. He edges out Alisson because of longevity, but Alisson has a higher ceiling and could be the pick in a few years.

Replacement: Alisson

Right-back: Cafu

It feels like Cafu was as much a 1990s player as a 2000s player (he made his debut in 1989), but then you remember that he was still bombing down the wing and excelling as late as the 2007 Champions League, when he was as good as anyone in the competition at almost 37 years old. There is a good argument for Dani Alves in this position as one of the best right-backs of the past 10 years, but Cafu is an all-time great and had a better career for the Brazil national team, with 142 caps and lifting the trophy as captain in 2002. One of the fittest players to ever play football.

Replacement: Dani Alves

Centre-back: Thiago Silva

Thiago Silva got unfairly blamed for Brazil’s 2014 World Cup fiasco because he refused to take a penalty in a knockout game against Chile and had shown “bad leadership”. But it was only in his absence that the whole thing collapsed, he was missing for the 7-1 loss against Germany and the whole defence had a complete dysfunction. Silva was the natural heir to Nesta at AC Milan before moving to PSG where he has been one of their greatest ever players. Classy defender, still going strong at 35.

Replacement: David Luiz

Centre-back: Lucio

Along with Julio Cesar, and Maicon (who doesn’t make this team), Lucio had his greatest ever season under Jose Mourinho at Inter in 2010, where he was dominant in the centre-back position. But he had also had a fine career before that, reaching the Champions League final with Bayer Leverkusen, before excelling for Bayern Munich, and winning the World Cup for Brazil in 2002. A hard-tackling centre-back who could also play a bit.

Replacement: Juan

Left-back: Roberto Carlos

Another tough one between Roberto Carlos and Marcelo, but again for Brazil national team one has clearly had a better career than the other. “Thunder thighs” Carlos made the full-back position cool with his amazing swerving free-kick in 1997 and was box-office during his career for Brazil and Real Madrid. He peaked around the turn of the century and was excellent in a wing-back position as Brazil won the 2002 World Cup. Powerful and dynamic, there haven’t been too many like Carlos.

Replacement: Marcelo

Centre midfield: Gilberto Silva

Gilberto Silva was the engine of Brazil’s 2002 World Cup team and adapted excellently to the Premier League, one of Arsenal and the Premier League’s more underrated players over his time there. He also stood out in comparison to his 2002 sidekick Kleberson, who flopped badly at United. Silva was in the mould of his predecessor Dunga, not afraid of a foul or a midfield battle, but also a brilliant midfield schemer.

Replacement: Ze Roberto

Centre midfield: Casemiro

It hasn’t been a glory age in central midfield for Brazil this century, but a number of top-class defensive midfielders have emerged over the past few years. Fernandinho has reached new heights at Man City, Fabinho is doing the business for Liverpool, but the pick of the bunch has been Casemiro at Real Madrid, who played a key part in Real Madrid winning three consecutive Champions Leagues. For the national team, he played a key role as Brazil won the 2019 Copa America.

Replacement: Fernandinho

Attacking midfield: Kaka

Kaka at his best was a joy to behold, peaking for the national team in a moment of magic against rivals Argentina, albeit in a friendly, where he ran the whole length of the pitch to score. There were few more direct and more elegant dribblers in his peak years, which were sadly shorter than was expected. But they did win him the 2007 Ballon d’Or as he led AC Milan to Champions League triumph. Kaka also had a wonderful passing range, as demonstrated by his assist for Hernan Crespo in the 2005 Champions League final.

Replacement: Oscar

Winger: Ronaldinho

Ronaldinho was one of a kind, a street footballer who had the courage to bring that style of football to the pitch, but not just for show, for deadly effectiveness as well. Ronaldinho regularly decided games from 2004 to 2006 when he was undisputedly the best player in the world, before partying and life got in the way. By then he had won a World Cup in 2002, a Champions League in 2006 and a Ballon d’Or in 2005 though. Can’t blame him. The game was never more beautiful than when Ronaldinho played.

Replacement: Robinho

Winger: Rivaldo

It is tough to leave Neymar out of this team given his consistent excellence for Brazil over the years, but all the players putting him out of the team have won Ballon d’Ors. Rivaldo was an outstanding player who mixed power with technical brilliance. So many times, he raised the level for Brazil, notably at the 2002 World Cup where he was arguably their best player. Most of his best football was in the last century rather than this one, but his performances in the early part of the century made their mark.

Replacement: Neymar

Striker: Ronaldo

El Fenomeno is one of the greatest strikers of all-time, even if he peaked as a teenager in the previous century. If it weren’t for injuries, Ronaldo could have had records like Messi has now for Barcelona and been the dominant player for 10 years. Sadly it didn’t happen, but he still made his mark this century, making an amazing redemption from bad injuries to win the Golden Boot at the 2002 World Cup with eight goals, no player has scored as many at a World Cup this century. When he was up for it, nobody could match him, he was given a standing ovation at Old Trafford after scoring a hat-trick there in 2003. False nine or poacher, Ronaldo could do the lot from striker position.

Replacement: Adriano

David's Brazilian team of the 21st century.

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