South Korea
12:00 PM UTC
Match 12
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3:00 PM UTC
Match 13
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6:00 PM UTC
Match 14
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3:00 PM UTC Jun 19, 2018
Match 16
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12:00 PM UTC Jun 19, 2018
Match 15
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6:00 PM UTC Jun 19, 2018
Match 17
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 By Tim Vickery

Lucas Lima could be the all-action midfielder Brazil have been missing

Lucas Lima, right, has emerged as a beacon in the Santos midfield, and there are hopes that he can replicate that form for Brazil.

Brazil coach Dunga made some controversial decisions when he named his squad to face Costa Rica and the USA in the coming warm-up friendlies. Some of the controversy has since died down, especially since Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho, the most surprising omission, was given another chance after Chelsea's Oscar pulled out injured. Marcelo of Real Madrid is another late inclusion, recalled at left-back following an injury to Filipe Luis of neighbours Atletico.

Thiago Silva, though, remains out. One of the world's top centre-backs is clearly being blamed for the Copa America elimination just over two months ago; it was he who needlessly gave away a penalty that allowed Paraguay to equalise in the fateful quarterfinal. The clear suspicion is that Dunga feels that the defender is too emotionally brittle to represent his country in high-pressure situations.

Of all the newcomers, it is the recall of Kaka that leaps off the page. The obvious explanation is that Dunga believes his side lacks experience and leadership as they prepare for South America's ultra-competitive World Cup qualification campaign. Kaka has been brought back not only as a player, but also as a dressing-room influence -- a point underlined by the fact that when Brazil trained on Tuesday, Kaka was not in the starting XI.

Lucas Lima, though, was. Largely unknown to the international audience, the left-footed Santos midfielder may end up being the most important of the new additions. Certainly he is shaping up to be the most interesting.

A month ago in the Maracana, Santos were two goals down at half-time against Flamengo, and it could have been worse. At the interval, coach Dorival Junior made a change. Lucas Lima, who had flapped about to little effect in the opening 45 minutes, was withdrawn to a central midfield position. In the second half he ran the game, directing operations from deep, linking the side together, offering a threat to the opposing goal. Santos took control and hit back to draw 2-2, Lucas Lima set up the first goal and scored the other.

More important than the scoreline was the way in which it was achieved. The main area in which Brazilian football has fallen behind is in terms of its midfield play. Over recent times the centre of the pitch has been divided between shielding players who only mark, and creative players who only set up the play. There have been no equivalents of the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Xavi or Bastian Schweinsteiger; midfield maestros who dictate the tempo of the game. The great Tostao, Brazil's centre-forward at the 1970 World Cup and the wisest writer on the local game, has long bemoaned that Brazil have not produced a world-class all-round midfielder in more than two decades.

Lucas Lima is unlikely to fill that void, but it is highly encouraging to see a player with the technical ability and the match-reading skills to exert such an influence on the game. Something of a late developer at the age of 25, his flowering with Santos could have important consequences for the national team.

"Lucas Lima should start both of Brazil's next two friendlies," Tostao wrote last week. "Who knows, perhaps he can reproduce his Santos form, or play even better, and be the midfielder that the team have missed so much, with the talent to play from one penalty box to the other."

Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.


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