RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) – Hopes weigh heavy on World Cup hosts Brazil as coach Luiz Felipe Scolari prepares to unveil Wednesday the players he trusts will deliver a sixth title in July.
Soaring expectations of fans weaned on success, a backdrop of social protest, plus fears of a repeat of past failure are all adding to the pressure.
For now, Scolari can select 30 players before trimming seven by June 2 but has indicated he already knows his 23.
On paper, it ought to be Hexacampeao Selecao — a sixth champions star to sew on the team’s feted canary yellow shirts after the July 13 final.
They have home advantage and also, in Scolari, a respected figure who has delivered before, leading the team to the 2002 trophy.
Brazil also have the favorable winds of the memory of last year’s Confederations Cup final victory over defending world champions Spain at the very Maracana stadium hosting the World Cup decider.
The Confederations win was soiled off the pitch by mass demonstrations against corruption, poor public facilities and the cost, more than $11 billion, of hosting this year’s Cup.
The draw means Brazil, who open up against Croatia in Sao Paulo on June 12 before facing Mexico and Cameroon, will not play in the Maracana before the final.
Thereby hangs a psychological tale, as their last World Cup match in the stadium was their 1950 decider against Uruguay.
Needing only a draw to win their maiden title, Brazil flunked it, going down 2-1 despite taking the lead.
The ‘Maracanazo’ loss crushed the hopes of a nation and has not been forgotten, despite five successes earned since.
- Relish it -
Yet Scolari says Brazil should relish their challenge.
“This is our Cup. We have what it takes to be champions — in footballing terms and because playing at home is like having an extra player,” Scolari insisted last week.
He added he and his squad would thrive, not shrink, before home crowds.
“It’s no burden to be coach of Brazil right now. It’s fantastic,” insisted Scolari, who has said for months his squad is more or less pre-picked.
Last month he confirmed his four ‘captains’ — Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Cesar and Fred — as well as London-based stars Paulinho, Oscar, Ramires and Willian, while Neymar is also a cert.
There is nothing to suggest ‘Big Phil’ will make major changes to a first XI which dismantled a tired Spain last June, although Neymar and Oscar are coming off injury problems at Barcelona and Chelsea respectively.
Players such as goalkeeper Julio Cesar and striker Fred, both instrumental last year, are favored lieutenants despite the former now playing in Major League Soccer and Fred enduring recent injury woes.
Botafogo’s Jefferson is set to be first goalkeeping reserve, though he has yet to win a cap in competition.
- Muscle, width -
Looking for some muscle in the middle of the park behind artists such as Neymar, Scolari can take his pick of ‘destroyers’ in the shape of Fernandinho, Lucas Leiva or Hernanes.
If he only plumps for one that would afford an extra option for more width.
There is scope for youth or experience with Philippe Coutinho coming off a strong season with resurgent Liverpool, while veterans Robinho and Kaka could join the party.
Before his final cull, Scolari will welcome the 30 to the refurbished Granja Comary training complex outside the rural town of Teresopolis around an hour north of Rio.
After jettisoning seven players, Scolari will then oversee a June 3 friendly against Panama at Goiana and a final warm-up against Serbia three days later at the Morumbi stadium in Sao Paulo.
Six days later, the real thing starts across the city at the new, much-delayed Corinthians Arena with Croatia cast in the role of potential party poopers.
And Scolari, whose record to date reads played 20, won 14, drawn four, lost two, faces his biggest challenge yet — belated home glory after 1950′s flop