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Question-marks remain as Scolari eyes Brazil glory

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03 Mar 2014 01:16:56

Question-marks remain as Scolari eyes Brazil glory

One hundred days from kickoff, and Brazil's 200 million fans dare to believe a sixth World Cup title beckons on home turf.

Abroad, as well as at home, the reputation of the most successful team in the tournament's history marches proudly before them.

The Selecao alone, after all, can boast world titles on four continents -- only blotting their geographical copybook at South Africa 2010.

Setting aside security and other logistical worries, most of the sporting ingredients appear to be in place.

But question-marks persist over Brazilian squad depth.

In the plus column, Brazil have an experienced coach in Luiz Felipe Scolari, who delivered the 2002 crown in Tokyo then reprised his role to add a home Confederations Cup last June at the expense of world champions Spain.

Add the mercurial talents of Neymar, as well as the stability factor, plus a well-drilled side and Brazil look worthy favorites.

Scolari's men know where they stand, with injury-prone striker Fred and goalkeeper Julio Cesar faithful lieutenants who the coach says will start.

The team sheet, barring injury or suspension, shows every sign of being the same one that sent Spain packing last year in the refurbished Maracana.

Fanatical home support should bolster their challenge -- but could equally be a double-edged sword in the absence of a winning start against Croatia on June 12 in Sao Paulo.

Scolari has been unequivocal in his aim of delivering the Cup once again, a second home failure after the 1950 nighmare against Uruguay is simply unthinkable.

"I took on the national side to be champion," he said in December -- repeating the mantra ever since.

At a recent FIFA workshop in southern Brazil he again stated: "We are favourites, we are at home, we are playing to win it.

"We have the conditions, the team, the organization, the quality to be champions."

Last year, Neymar, whose debut season at Barcelona has been tainted by legal issues surrounding his transfer fee, and Fred took apart a tired Spain in the Confederations Cup final.

Scolari is set to keep faith with the same eleven starters this June, yet two large question-marks hover over his side.

One is the match fitness of goalkeeper Julio Cesar, whom Scolari has pencilled in as his number one choice barring injury.

Cesar, 34, endured a torrid time at Queens Park Rangers suffering relegation from the English Premier League last season.

He then sat on the bench before securing a February loan move to Major League Soccer side Toronto.

Second choice Jefferson is a reliable performer for Botafogo but has only nine friendly appearances under his belt for Brazil.

Another concern is Fred's fitness, with a thigh injury having caused him to miss much of Fluminense's poor league campaign before a recurrence hobbled his return.

Scolari, having seen Brazilian-born Atletico Madrid sharpshooter Diego Costa wave goodbye to his country of birth in order to play for his adopted Spain, says Fred is his number nine, full stop.

"He is a good player, an excellent person, a leader," says Scolari, who has in reserve former Manchester City misfit Jo, scorer of two goals at the Confederations event.

Fred has praised Scolari, who will unveil his final 23-man squad on May 7, for making the team feared again.

"Felipao has imposed his own style on the team, and the group has taken it on board," the 30-year-old said.

If Neymar personifies the 'beautiful game,' Scolari is a pragmatist who will deploy two defensive-minded midfielders in Confederations Cup mainstays Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo, with Ramires and Fernandinho further options.

Defensively, Brazil can point to stability in the shape of skipper Thiago Silva, Dani Alves, Marcelo and David Luiz as, after facing Croatia, they take on Mexico and Cameroon.

The hosts face South Africa in Johannesburg on Wednesday then Panama and Serbia in early June final warm-ups before embarking on their World Cup campaign, where a giant nation expects 11, if not 23, men to do their duty.


AFP

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