Rafinha's revival with Pep Guardiola at the helm came at a perfect time in his career. He is in the middle of his prime years and the World Cup in his home country is just a few months away.
Now the 28-year-old will be part of one of the final trials for the Seleçao, a friendly match in the first week of March against South Africa. Coach Luis Felipe Scolari has called Rafinha, a long with Dante, into the side, a sign that he has a legitimate shot to make the World Cup squad.
Rafinha will be the 19th Bayern Munich player to get called up with his national team during the 2013/14 season, the 17th that has an opportunity wear his country's colors in Brazil.
Dani Alves is the established right fullback for the Pentacampeões, but the spot behind the 4-time FIFPro World XI defender is not yet set in stone.
Maicon is the next fullback with the most international expierence, yet Scolari left the 32-year-old out of the Confederations Cup squad. Struggling with knee injuries in his one year with Manchester City, he has had a bit of a rebirth himself, assisting AS Roma to the lowest goals against tally (11) in the Italian Serie A.
Starting all five matches for the Seleçao in the 2010 World Cup, Maicon's international record was a bit spotty, getting only seven starts over the past three years. While part of his sporadic call-ups was attributed to a bit of coaching turmoil, the fact remains that he is not the same two-way contributor of years past. Incumbents still have to be knocked off though, so he remains Rafinha's primary competition for a spot.
The only other pure right back that has gotten a strong look-in from Scolari is Atletico Minero's Marcos Rocha, who has gotten two substitution appearances under Scolari. He lead all fullbacks in the Brazilian Serie A in tackles in 2013 with 106, and was second amoung his peers with 65 interceptions. He is, like many fullbacks who play in Brazil, a little undisciplined, collecting eight yellow cards and two red cards in 2013.
The real front Rafinha's battle that might be the toughest to conquer is whether Scolari, with such a pool to choose from at defender, will even bring a third fullback. The Seleçao manager brought along Jean as an insurance policy for Dani Alves and Marcelo last summer, although the midfielder by trade did not see the pitch at all. The only other comprehensible options were all center backs: Dante, Felipe Melo, and Réver.
What will really help Rafinha's case is FC Bayern's title defense in the UEFA Champions League. If Guardiola continues to employ Philipp Lahm as a midfielder in the bright lights, Rafinha will increase the assets he can bid against his competition. Bastian Schweinsteiger's return has cast a cloud on the playing time Rafinha dearly needs.
A big door has opened for Rafinha, but it may be the only one, and it will not be open very long.
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