Football: Brazil ally discipline to romance: San Francisco Samba: Three-times champions back on trail of true identity after defeat of Russia in opening match

Click to follow
The Independent Online
IN addition to absorbing the expositions of their coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, the footballers of Brazil are required to think historically.

Quartered in a 33-room lodge on the outskirts of San Francisco that is eating into Brazil's budget at the rate of dollars 50,000 ( pounds 34,000) per week, they are reminded not so much of past glories as disappointments.

The mistakes made since Brazil last carried off the trophy 24 years ago are constant in Parreira's mind. 'Of course, things were much different before economic problems sent the majority of our best players abroad,' he said. Eight of those who started the 2-0 defeat of Russia on Monday are employed in Europe. 'But I don't see any reason why we can't re-establish the disciplines, mental and physical, that were vital even to the team of Pele, Rivelino, Gerson and Tostao. If it is no longer possible to have the players in training for three months as Mario did (Mario Zagalo, the manager in 1970, is comfortably at Parreira's side as a technical consultant) we can still establish the order and purpose that was missing in Italy four years ago.'

To suppose that Parreira's strictness affronts a romantic ideal is to be ignorant of the fact that Brazil's reputation was founded on the meaningful application of natural gifts. 'The very best Brazilian players, and Pele is the supreme example, have understood that,' he added. 'They were seldom guilty of the extravagance we see in the African players. There is a way of playing that is ours exclusively.'

Rampant inflation, urban crime rates beyond the worst US statistics and the recent death of the Formula One champion, Ayrton Senna, a national hero, leave Brazilians to seek solace in the hope that their footballers can revive past glories.

Secure in quarters guarded by 15 security men, Brazil go about their work diligently and, according to a former great star, Junior, who is a member of Parreira's staff, happily. 'I don't sense any problems with the players,' Junior said while watching Brazil launch their campaign in San Francisco on Monday. 'There is a sense of the old times, like it was in 1982 when we should have won the World Cup in Spain.'

The weaknesses imposed on Russia by the absence of the Manchester United winger, Andre Kanchelskis, and other important players who refused to work with the coach, Pavel Sadyrin, made it difficult to accurately assess Brazil's potential. But their performance was encouraging. 'It was important to win our first game, and now we have something to build on,' Parreira said.

So far, Parreira remains untroubled by what he has seen elsewhere. 'There are some good teams out there and they will be hard to beat,' he said, 'but I haven't seen anything to cost me sleep.'

A training session prevented Parreira from seeing the Republic of Ireland defeat Italy, but he knows about them. What he knows most about is their heart. 'They have tremendous spirit, a will to win that is phenomenal, and that could be very important,' he said.

Unquestionably, the most thrilling football has been played in California, even if Colombia and Cameroon have yet to make a clear impression. 'It was amazing that Colombia missed so many chances against Romania. They easily could have scored five goals,' Parreira thought. Instead, marshalled by Gheorghe Hagi, whose glorious goal will take some surpassing, Romania established themselves as a team to be reckoned with.

Although drained by the heat, Sweden tidily hung on to hold Cameroon in Los Angeles and the Netherlands' late winner against Saudi Arabia on Monday means that the emerging nations have yet to record a victory.

There have been examples of sublime skill and very little petulance; an irritating abundance of yellow cards, the result of fussy, at times inadequate refereeing, but no violent play. The short corner, discarded 20 years ago, is back in fashion.

America is not holding its breath, largely indifferent to the carnival taking place here. But who cares? This is the World Cup. And in their quarters, guarded by platoon-strength security, Brazil address the lessons of history.