By Gustavo Spanholi

Gustavo has true international experience of the football and sport industry, having previously lived and/or worked in France, Hong Kong and Brazil – his home country. Holding a Masters’ Degree in Football Industries from the University of Liverpool, Gustavo previously spent three years leading the commercial and marketing unit at Figueirense FC, one of Brazil’s top clubs.

Brazil are the only country to have qualified for every edition of the FIFA World Cup. They also hold the record for the highest number of tournament wins – five. Simply put, a World Cup without the Selecao is unimaginable. The Samba boys though haven’t won the biggest prize in sport since 2002, and their last outing in a World Cup was the humiliating 7-1 semi-final defeat to Germany in 2014 in front of their own fans in Belo Horizonte. The wounds are still raw.

But that was then, and Russia 2018 is now. Revived hope, a new coach, a frightening forward line and the world’s most expensive player makes Brazil one of the favourites going into the tournament. Gustavo spoke to us to talk up his nation’s chances…

A successful qualifying campaign, Neymar fit and scoring goals again, a coach in Tite the country adores – surely Brazil are going to win the World Cup this summer?

It’s natural for Brazil to be placed among the favourites given their history in the tournament, the qualifying campaign and the quality of the squad. However, in my opinion we should also mention current champions Germany and their world famous consistency, France and their unbelievable generation of talent (even superior to Brazil) and an Argentina side eager to silence internal critics led by a 31-old Messi still pursuing international glory. So, it’s impossible to guess who is going to win! Right now I’d say the Selecao are in a position where they can perform well – a group of players still young but mature enough to trouble the top European sides, a head coach able to create a family environment and the renewed confidence of 200 million Brazilians.

Despite the long sought after Olympic gold medal in 2016, is there a sense that Brazil still need to eradicate the ghost of their last World Cup game – a 7-1 semi-final defeat to Germany?

That’s correct. All Brazilians dream about on-pitch revenge against Germany, though in my view it’s difficult to re-create equivalent conditions for that game. Scoring seven goals against the hosts in a semi-final is something that happens maybe only once a century! That said, after the 1950 World Cup (Brazil lost the final in Rio de Janeiro 2-1 to Uruguay) it ignited reforms on Brazilian football that ended with Selecao winning three of the following five World Cups. But we must give full credit to Germany, especially for the respect they showed following the win.

How vital is Neymar to Brazil’s chances in Russia?

Neymar is a wonderful, decisive player, however I see this squad as less dependent on him than in 2014. This also proves how Brazil’s football has learnt from the Germany defeat and prepared itself better for the Russian journey. We have Coutinho, Firmino, Jesus, William and so many other players in great shape who have been deciding high-profile matches in Europe in previous seasons. Nevertheless, it is undeniable how influential Neymar is over the other players and how the group trusts his international and club-level experience.

Political unrest continues to dominate the news agenda in Brazil. Would a Brazil victory this summer go any way to improving relations between the government and its citizens?

In my view, Brazil is the biggest unfulfilled potential in the world. There are so many natural resources, talented people in all areas, natural creativity and work capacity. The Selecao is a picture of this Brazil that could be a world-class reference if it wasn’t spoiled by the political scenario in the country. A positive difference however, especially in a World Cup year, is that no matter what happens in Russia, it won’t stop a willingness for change that has increasingly taken over every little conversation among Brazilians which will peak at the national major elections set to take place in October.