World Cup 2014 heat is now on Brazil to perform

Shirts and flags of the Brazilian national football team are displayed for sale on a street in Brasilia, May 3, 2014. ― Reuters pic
Shirts and flags of the Brazilian national football team are displayed for sale on a street in Brasilia, May 3, 2014. ― Reuters pic

RIO DE JANEIRO, May 11 ― A team boasting Neymar, Oscar and Dani Alves should win the World Cup, but Brazil know there are no guarantees even when you host the biggest global sporting spectacle.

Brazil lifted the trophy in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002. But a country that clamours for football perfection keeps looking back to a defeat in 1950 when Brazil last organised the World Cup.

Some 200,000 people packed Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium then to see Uruguay beat Brazil 2-1 in a football ambush that has gone down in history as the ‘Maracanazo.’

The angst of 1950 will be hanging over Sao Paulo’s Corinthians stadium when Brazil play Croatia in the opening World Cup game on June 12. They also face Cameroon and Mexico in Group A.

Nerves could be jangling if Brazil reaches the final, which will be back in the modernised Maracana, where the capacity is now less than 80,000.

Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who guided Brazil to their 2002 triumph, wants that 1950 team to be treated as heroes rather than the villains they are now cast as.

“My vision of 1950 is entirely different to what most people think,” Scolari said at a recent FIFA workshop.

“Before 1950 Brazil had never reached the final. They were the pioneers of the five titles we have won since then. Those players got there and made Brazilian history.

“We built our success on top of them. We are going to try and get back to the Maracana for the final and properly remember the team of the 1950s because they were wonderful and fantastic and that’s how I'd like Brazilians to think about them,” said Scolari.

Brazil legend Pele said the 1950 finals were “a bad experience” for the country.

“Now the people are afraid of the same thing happening. But I think it will be different now," Pele told AFP in a recent interview.

On paper, Brazil, the only team to have played in every World Cup finals, has little to worry about.

Neymar’s speed and finish has made the 22-year-old one of the most feared strikers in the world.

He scored his second international hat-trick in Brazil’s 5-0 thrashing of South Africa in March.

Captain Thiago Silva holds the back four together which allows the fullbacks, Dani Alves in particular, the freedom to launch incisive attacks up the flanks.

And with Oscar in midfield constantly prising open opposing defences for Chelsea this year, Scolari has a threatening team.

But that was not so clear when he took over last year.

As Brazil did not have to qualify for the finals, they relied on friendly games against top class opponents such as Argentina, France and Netherlands after the World Cup finals in South Africa.

Brazil lost to Paraguay in the quarter finals of Copa America in 2011 however and after the sacking of Mano Menezes in November 2012, Scolari had to act to end some worrying results. They lost to England in his first game in charge in February 2013 and drew with Italy, Russia and Chile.

But the win over South Africa gave Scolari a 13th victory in 14 games.

The coach said he only returned to the national team because he is sure that Brazil will win the World Cup. He also knows what it is like to reach a final and lose.

Scolari coached the Portuguese team that hosted the 2004 European Championships, reached the final and lost to Greece.

“It was a helpful experience,” said Scolari.

“I now have a better idea of how we should behave going into a final, and how a team playing a final in its own country should organise itself and approach the match in order to lift the trophy.

“I know we can enjoy the experience of playing in front of home crowds, but at the same time we have to be aware that it will hurt more if we lose,” he declared philosophically. ― AFP