by Celso Chamochumbi
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The sense permeating the soccer world that Brazil is poised to win another World Cup championship is eerily familiar to fans of the verde e amarelo. A perennial favorite to win just about every international soccer competition, the Brazilian side struts into Germany confident and pretty much assured of a pass to at least the quarterfinals. From there, it becomes a matter of winning two monumental matches, in which one may involve a meeting with the home team. The victory in 2002 notwithstanding, the scars from the 1998 fiasco against France have not healed in Brazil.
It behooves Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira to field a balanced side, one in which midfielders and forwards play a complete game. Otherwise, the 2006 quartet of phenoms: Ronaldo, Ronaldinho Gaucho, Kaka, and Robinho may face the same unsurprising fate that the 1982 and 1998 squads of superstars encountered -- elimination. Rarely does a national team suffer from having too many playmakers, but in Brazil the true gems actually appear in the form of the tireless role-players committed to applying pressure all over the field. For each Zico and Rivaldo that has donned the famed No. 10, Brazil's triumphs have depended upon the containment-minded midfielders such as Dunga and Gilberto Silva. The sporting wisdom that defense wins championships is fully applicable here as we assess Brazil's chances for another extended run.
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Brazil World Cup 2006 Odds: Brazil is in Group F with Croatia, Australia and Japan. Brazil is listed as 5/2 favorites at Bodog to win it all, but the best number, at Sportsbook.com, has the five-time champions at 3/1.
In order for punters to cash a winning ticket on the Brazilians, this team will need for Parreira to impose his will upon his players. Many great squads have entered a World Cup with coaches that do not 'own' the locker room, and Parreira needs to morph into the headstrong leader that brought a relatively bland Brazilian team to the champions' circle in 1994. If he does not adequately lead the team, the headlines could center on Ronaldo's chase of Pelé's record for goals scored by a Brazilian in World Cup history, and the Brazilian Soccer Federation's search for a new leader in late July.
The magnificence of Brazil's attacking players is well known and documented. However, the play of its outside defenders, Roberto Carlos and Cafú and/or Cicinho is vital for Brazil's offense. It is the streaking runs of these outside defenders that provide the biggest conundrum for opposing sides. Teams must either account for them specifically and mark a mega-star one-on-one, or clog the mega-stars with an abundance of players in the middle, and allow the outside defenders to run wild along the sideline. Pick your poison.
Again, such an attacking strategy is contingent upon having central defenders and defensive midfielders that are capable and disciplined enough to cover the gaping holes left when either defender explodes up the sideline. The play of goalkeeper Dida will also be scrutinized by the media. A trusted player of Parreira's since their championship seasons together with the club team Corinthians in the late 1990s, Dida's lanky frame covers a lot of ground, but his indecision on crosses have also cost his teams dearly.
Brazil's weaknesses may be a product of its strengths. A collection of sensational players does not necessarily produce championships, as those who have tracked the Galacticos or the Yankees in recent years can attest. Enough cannot be said about how important the off-the-field chemistry will be to ascertaining the success of this group of players.
The on-the-field spotlight will shine brightest on the ability of the two central defenders to gel. Parreira has not yet settled on the pair to anchor the backline, but given Brazil's formation where the central defenders play side-by-side, instead of staggered, its imperative that both players remain locked into the other's positioning at all times.
While the team could control its internal weaknesses, the prospect of facing Germany late in the tournament is a daunting proposition. The recent struggles of the German squad will be completely inconsequential come late June/early July as an entire nation makes home-field advantage matter. On a neutral site, similar to the 2002 locale, Brazil beats most big teams most of the time. As recent runs through the World Cup qualifiers have shown, this team is vulnerable when on the road. Recent losses at Argentina and at Ecuador during qualifiers offer a glimpse into what may happen when Brazil faces a home team in an elimination-type game. Meanwhile, the ghosts of July 14, 1998 humble even the most optimistic.
Brazil World Cup 2006 Outlook: Undoubtedly, large questions loom about the type of team Brazil will field. Known for a mechanical and conservative approach, coach Parreira seems intent on acquiring the label of colorful, dynamic and creative -- all historical tenets of Brazilian soccer. The team's outlook hinges on Parreira's willingness to make big decisions, which may prove unpopular.
Will he sit the aging and injured captain Cafú in favor of a healthy and younger Cicinho? Will he design an attack around Adriano instead of Ronaldo, even at the cost of the latter's run at Brazil's scoring record? Will he succumb to popular will and choose flashy players to fill out the roster, or will he call upon players inclined to fill roles? Such matters will unquestionably be felt come the end of the first round, when, because of accumulating yellow cards, Parreira may opt to use some reserves in games against Japan and Australia.
In short, handicapping Brazil is similar to thinking about the USA men's basketball team. Individually, most players are at the top of their respective positions, but the questions always focus on coaching, player selection and teamwork. Moving beyond the first round is a non-issue. Brazil has won its group handily in every World Cup since 1986, losing only one match against Norway in 1998.
Brazil World Cup 2006 first Round Match Schedule (all times local):
Tuesday, June 13, Group F1 Brazil vs. Group F2 Croatia, in Berlin, 3pm.
Sunday, June 18, Group F1 Brazil vs. Group F3 Australia, 9am, Munich
Thursday, June 22, Group F1 Brazil vs. Group F4 Japan, 3pm, Dortmund
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Ronaldo is a three-time FIFA World Player of the Year and a double FIFA World Cup winner. Ronaldinho has twice won the FIFA World Player of the Year along with being named European Player of the year in 2005. While these infamous strikers are the faces of the Seleção, it is another Brazilian phenomenon labeled 'Imperatore' (the Emperor) that will confirm his world-class standing and continue the success of South America's top football nation this summer in Germany.
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