By Andrew Downie
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil head to Russia in better shape than anyone could have imagined after their 7-1 mauling by Germany in 2014 and with new coach Tite having turned the team around there is every reason to believe they can add to their record five World Cup crowns.
The humiliating loss to Germany on home soil was the nadir and the next two years were barely much better as Dunga, who replaced Luiz Felipe Scolari, could not get them back to their best.
His replacement, however, has worked wonders during his 17 months in charge and in March Brazil became the first team to qualify for Russia.
Tite, the former Corinthians coach who is little known outside his homeland, has Brazil playing a tighter game, with more pressing and short passes, and lightning breaks.
Most importantly, he has a settled team in place, with Marcelo and Dani Alves starting in the full back positions alongside central defenders Marquinhos and Miranda.
Up front, Neymar remains the undisputed main man and the youthful verve of Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho have given the side a lethal dose of pace.
Tite's biggest changes have come in midfield, where Fernandinho and Paulinho are the only survivors from the 2014 squad.
Paulinho went to China and disappeared off the footballing map but Tite recalled him and another China-based player, Renato Augusto, both of whom he knew from his Corinthians days.
Holding it all in place is unsung hero Casemiro.
Whether Brazil can match the European powers of Germany, Spain and France remains to be seen.
A 0-0 draw with an injury-hit England this month shows they still have work to do but friendlies against champions Germany and host nation Russia will go some way to fine-tuning their game.
The real answers will come next summer.
(Reporting by Andrew Downie, editing by Ed Osmond)