Frontrunners

IF THE COMBINATION OF RONALDINHO AND KAKA (the duo share a lighter moment during Brazil's World Cup training in Weggis, Switzerland) fire, Brazil will be almost impossible to defeat in Germany.-AP IF THE COMBINATION OF RONALDINHO AND KAKA (the duo share a lighter moment during Brazil's World Cup training in Weggis, Switzerland) fire, Brazil will be almost impossible to defeat in Germany.

The toughest thing about SUCCESS is that you have got to keep on being successful. This is the price Brazil have to pay every time they enter a competition and in Germany it will be no different, writes CINDY GARCIA-BENNETT.

The toughest thing about success is that you have got to keep on being successful. This is the price Brazil have to pay every time they enter a competition and in Germany it will be no different; they are the team to beat. The defending champions can claim to be the most accomplished team in the history of the competition with five World Cup crowns to their name. Brazil have made sure that they maintained that supremacy in the last decade, having played in the last three World Cup finals.

"For the first time in our history we will arrive at the World Cup in Germany as the undisputed favourite," said national coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, who guided Brazil to glory in the 1994 finals in the United States after a 24-year wait. "We will have to get accustomed to this. Let's not forget that in the 1970, 1994 and 2002 World Cups we didn't arrive as favourites and yet we won. In 2002, we only reached the World Cup in our last qualifying game."

But to please 186 million Brazilians is an enormous weight to carry, even for the experienced Parreira. There is no question Parreira is spoilt for choice, with FIFA World Player of the Year Ronaldinho, AC Milan playmaker Kaka and Real Madrid `galactico' Ronaldo at his disposal.

Brazil exports more players than any other country in the world while successfully maintaining a highly competitive domestic league. "I never fail to marvel at our mine of talent," admitted Parreira. "We are in the very enviable position of being able to send 200 or 300 players abroad every year without feeling the drought at home because there are another 300 waiting to take their place." Parreira recently selected what he said would be his starting XI for the first match, and in doing so overcame a dilemma, which incidentally many other national coaches would gladly like to have. "Our problem is that we can fill every position with at least four outstanding players," said Parreira. The Brazil manager now plans to start his attack with Ronaldo, Inter Milan striker Adriano, Ronaldinho and Kaka. If the combination of Ronaldinho and Kaka — who will play just behind the front two — fire, Brazil will be almost impossible to defeat.

Real Madrid's Robinho will be breathing down the neck of Ronaldo and Adriano should they fail to impress in the first few matches. But, Ronaldo and Adriano would realise that failure is not an option in a country where football is almost a religion. The Brazilian Football Federation (CBF) expects big things in Germany, with their lucrative sponsorship deal with Nike ending this summer.

Parreira will also have to act as a psychologist. "My players will have to avoid being affected by the favouritism," he said. "If we don't manage it right it can be extremely damaging. You are bound to face complications when arriving to a World Cup as favourites even if you take care of the psychology of your players."

Few will forget Brazil's debacle in the 1998 final, which saw France beat them 3-0. The game was marred by controversy surrounding Ronaldo, who played in the game despite suffering a convulsive fit on the eve of the match — Ronaldo bounced back four years later to guide his team to their fifth title.

So far, Brazil have shown coolness under pressure having finished top of their qualifying group while also winning the Confederations Cup last summer. There is plenty at stake as they are the only nation to have participated in every World Cup. Unlike previous champions, they had the added adversity of having to defend their title from the qualifying stages and they passed the test with flying colours. While remaining unbeaten at home, they won nine times and only lost twice in 18 games to finish first above Argentina in the South American standings. Moreover, Parreira, who has often been criticised by his compatriots for conservative and unimaginative tactics, proved that he is willing to change his approach to suit his team. Not only did Brazil have the best strike force of their group but they also possessed in Ronaldo the competition's top scorer, netting 10 of his team's 35 goals.

Brazil's Group F rivals Croatia, Australia and Japan will know what they are up against. Unlike bitter rivals Argentina, who have been drawn with Serbia and Montenegro, Ivory Coast and Holland in what has been called the group of death, Brazil appear to have escaped unharmed. But Parreira wants no surprises. "In theory we can say it's an easy group but it will not be," he said. "We have to be alert. Those teams have experience and many of their players play in Europe."

Parreira knows that his team will be tested as early as the second round, as they are likely to come up against Italy or the Czech Republic, provided both progress from Group E. "They are two very good sides," he said. "Without a doubt, we will have to work hard in order to beat them."

But can Brazil defend the title as they did back in 1962 in Chile? "The best thing that can happen to you after winning the World Cup is to win it again," said Parreira. "And defending the title is extremely difficult. The environmental factor will play a big role in the tournament. It will not just favour the host nation Germany but also Italy."

Not even Brazil legend Pele wants to tempt fate. "We are the best team with great individual players," said the man regarded as the finest player of all time. "But we have to remember what happened in 1982, we had the best team, nobody disputes that, but we didn't win. And look at Holland with Johan Cruyff, twice they should have won (in 1974 and 1978) but they didn't. It is not always the favourites with the best players that win." And that is the beauty of the competition.

THE TEAM

Goalkeepers: Dida (AC Milan), Julio Cesar (Inter Milan), Rogerio Ceni (Sao Paulo).

Defenders: Cafu (AC Milan), Cicinho (Real Madrid), Lucio (Bayern Munich), Juan (Bayer Leverkusen), Roberto Carlos (Real Madrid), Gilberto (Hertha Berlin), Cris (Olympique Lyon), Luisao (Benfica).

Midfielders: Juninho Pernambucano (Olympique Lyon), Emerson (Juventus), Ze Roberto (Bayern Munich), Gilberto Silva (Arsenal), Kaka (AC Milan), Ricardinho (Corinthians), Mineiro (Sao Paolo).

Forwards: Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Robinho (Real Madrid), Ronaldinho (Barcelona), Adriano (Inter Milan), Fred (Olympique Lyon).

Coach: Carlos Alberto Parreira. * * * Unparalleled Parreira

AP

Carlos Alberto Parreira knows what it's like to sit in one of sports' hottest seats having already guided Brazil to World Cup glory once. The highly experienced coach, who led the South American giants to their fourth World Cup triumph in 1994, aims to repeat success in Germany next month.

Envied by managers around the globe for the number of talented players at his disposal, Parreira's job is nevertheless one that many coaches would gladly turn down. Failure to succeed can have serious repercussions in Brazil and Parreira can attest to that. He first guided the national team in 1983 but a disappointing run of results for Brazil's standards — five wins and two defeats in 14 games — ended his adventure early. Parreira was undeterred and returned in 1991, proving more successful this time as Brazil clinched the World Cup title in America three years later.

Despite success, the Rio-born tactician decided to step down, much to the surprise of the nation. "Winning the World Cup simply meant that I had accomplished my mission," he said. "There was unbearable, almost inhuman pressure bearing down on me because Brazil had not won it since 1970. That was mentally and physically exhausting for years, even during the qualifiers for the World Cup. It was 24-hours-a-day suffering. I suddenly felt a ton weight drop from my shoulders."

When Parreira was named Luiz Felipe Scolari's successor in January 2003, the nation was somewhat stunned after the coach had repeatedly reiterated he would not come back. His decision raised the inevitable question — why?

"I couldn't turn it down," said Parreira. "It's a privilege to be chosen to coach the only team to have won the World Cup five times. Sure, the pressure's still there; you always feel it as Brazil's national coach but it is nowhere near as great as it was in 1994."

But it comes as no surprise the Brazil Football Confederation (CBF) have turned to him. Parreira has earned the reputation as one of the most committed and academic coaches in Brazil and has unquestionable international experience, having coached Kuwait in the 1982 World Cup, the United Arab Emirates in 1990 and Saudi Arabia at France '98.

Parreira's tactics were not always welcomed by his compatriots, who believed it to be too conservative and unimaginative. However, the 62-year-old has not been afraid to make changes to answer his critics, as was seen in the World Cup qualifiers and in the Confederation Cup, which Brazil won last summer after a 4-1 triumph over Argentina.

Parreira's Brazil were under pressure in the World Cup qualifying campaign, as they were the first champions to have to defend their crown through qualifying. But they did it in style, finishing top of their group ahead of Argentina, scoring 35 goals, more than any of their rivals, while also having the second meanest defence with only 17 goals conceded and remaining unbeaten at home. Parreira, who never played the game professionally, studied physical education and began his coaching experience in Ghana in 1968. Two years later, he was on the coaching staff of Brazil's memorable team that won the 1970 World Cup. He continued his role as a physical trainer with Rio de Janeiro's Fluminense. Five years had to go by before he was promoted to head coach. Success may not have followed but he did return nine years later to guide the same club to their only Brazilian championship.

Like many of his peers, Parreira moved to the Middle East during the oil boom of the 1970s and managed the Kuwait national team to the 1982 World Cup, a historic achievement despite first round elimination. But after six years in the Gulf, he returned to his nation, embarking on his first experience guiding the Canarinhos.

His negative spell with the national team saw Parreira seek comfort with another national side, the United Arab Emirates, whom he guided to clinch the Asian Championship in 1988. After a four-year spell with Brazil, which culminated in the World Cup title, Parreira continued his travels, coaching clubs in Spain, Turkey and the United States as well as the Saudi Arabia national team. It's back to being with Brazil again and possibly yet another World Cup triumph is not too far away.

Cindy Garcia-Bennett

@ PA Sport, 2006, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, re-written, re-distributed or commercially exploited.

Sportstar is not responsible for any inaccuracy in the material.