Overpowering Brazil has a flaw heading to World Cup: Keeper

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SAO PAULO (AP) Brazil has been so dominant that it qualified for next year's World Cup in Russia with more than a year to go.

But there's a problem. Despite Brazil's overwhelming talent, it lacks a world-class goalkeeper. The candidates are either struggling to play top-level soccer in Europe, or have little international experience.

Among Brazil's main choices, national team starter Alisson is a reserve at AS Roma. Young Ederson is a key for Portugal's Benfica but has yet to debut for the national team. And Valencia's Diego Alves has yet to get his first chance under coach Adenor Leonardo Bacchi, known universally as Tite.

At home, little-known options playing in Brazil's league have yet to be tested against top international teams. There's Atletico Paranaense's Weverton, Flamengo's Alex Muralha and Gremio's Marcelo Grohe. None of those has World Cup experience.

Brazil's weakness at the position is so obvious that No. 1 choice Alisson has talked about leaving Roma, even if that means going to a smaller club where he would get more playing time.

That approach worked for Brazil in the 1994 World Cup with legendary goalie Claudio Taffarel moving from Parma to tiny Reggiana in Italy just one year before stopping penalties and lifting football's holy grail in the United States.

The strategy wasn't as successful four years ago, when veteran Julio Cesar left English club Queens Park Rangers for Canada's Toronto FC in Major League Soccer.

Now a goalkeeping coach at Brazil's football confederation, Taffarel said Alisson's troubles at Roma won't matter as long as he is playing and training well in the year before the World Cup. He also thinks others are ready to step in.

''Alisson has always had a good technical level, he could play for any team in Europe,'' Taffarel said. ''Ederson is a starter for Benfica, all great clubs in Europe want him. Weverton, an Olympic gold medalist, could be playing abroad too. And Diego Alves could still return, he is the most experienced of those.''

Other former Brazil keepers are not as excited about Alisson. That's the case with Taffarel's reserve in the 1994 World Cup, Zetti.

''Alisson is the best for now, but we have others that give me confidence, too,'' he told reporters.

Many speculate why goalie should be a traditional problem for Brazil. Some have suggested catching requires hand-eye coordination, which is not a requisite in soccer.

It is so evident that Brazil doesn't have an undisputed No. 1 that Tite and Taffarel are now monitoring goalkeepers during training sessions at their clubs.

''In the beginning it was our goalkeeping coach Claudio Taffarel bringing me names, we discussed all of them democratically,'' Tite said in an interview with radio Jovem Pan last week. ''Then we noticed that was not enough, so we started following training sessions too.''

Asked whether Alisson's reserve status at Roma could affect his performances for Brazil, Tite gave a full explanation on his potential, but then acknowledged: ''Yes, it could.''

To get ready for Russia 2018, Taffarel said Brazilian goalkeepers have to do whatever it takes to play every weekend.

Brazil has time to experiment with two international friendlies in June against Australia and Argentina. World Cup qualifiers resume in September against Ecuador and Colombia, and those games aren't critical since Brazil has already qualified.

''In the year before the World Cup it is a key for them to be 100 percent,'' Taffarel said.