Football: Burden of the beautiful noise: Parreira feels the weight of expectation as Brazil prepare to step out of the World Cup wilderness: Richard Williams talks to the coach hoping to fulfil his nation's destiny

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DOWN on the beach in the midday heat, shoeless boys in filthy T-shirts were beating tin cans and hubcaps in samba- time, their longing eyes raised to the balconies of the five-star hotel. Each time a curtain twitched and a face appeared from the air-conditioned world behind the plate glass, the drumming redoubled in fervour, girls screamed, and the chanting began: Bra-sil] Bra-sil]

Inside, in the cool, quiet, double-glazed darkness of the hotel, Carlos Alberto Parreira still couldn't get the sound out of his ears. This was Recife, on the northern coast of Brazil, on the day of a friendly match against Argentina a few weeks ago, but the noise follows him everywhere - even, last week, to Paris, where he took his team for their latest World Cup warm-up game, only to find the city's Brazilian population assembled with their gold-and- green shirts and samba drums.

'I know the responsibility I'm facing,' Parreira said, with his charming sad-clown's smile. 'I'm privileged to have this job. I enjoy my work. I love to watch the team play. But all this pressure . . . no, I don't think any human being would enjoy this.'

Three years ago, Parreira took on the task of leading Brazil to their first World Cup victory in 24 years. Of fulfilling, in fact, what all Brazilians - all 150 million of them - see as the nation's destiny. And not just Brazilians, either. The victories of 1958, 1962 and 1970 not only gave them the Jules Rimet Trophy in perpetuity but also established them in the minds of the post-war generation as the world's number one footballing country, and as permanent leaseholders on the Platonic ideal of football, of what it can become when the highest motives and the finest skills are brought to bear on a simple game. So vivid is the after-image of those achievements - of 1970, in particular - that even the crushing self-betrayals of the last five tournaments have not tarnished the memories, or blunted the hopes of what they might do next time.

No man has had to live in more troublesome intimacy with the memories of 1970 than Parreira, who was then a young physiotherapist attached to the squad of Pele, Gerson, Jairzinho, Tostao and Rivelino, and who now finds himself responsible for reviving that spirit. At least he's not alone. In 1970 (and 1974) the manager was Mario Zagalo, who had played on the left wing in the 1958 and 1962 World Cup final teams. A friendship forged 25 years ago has never wavered, and today the silver-haired Zagalo, still tense with energy at 59, is Parreira's ever-present consigliere. 'We like each other,' Parreira said, 'we respect each other, and we have the same ideas about football. We put vanity aside - we're working for the Brazilian team, not for ourselves. Being the coach of this team is a very big challenge. There's so much talking, there's pressure from all sides, and you can never relax. To be alone in such a job . . . well, to have Zagalo with me is a privilege. We go to games together, we discuss this player, that player. But when it comes to making the team, the decisions are mine.'

There's plenty for them to talk about. Brazilian football is slowly emerging from a period of domestic turmoil - decaying fabric, chaotic and corrupt organisation, emigrating stars and disappearing crowds - that mirrors the condition of the country. Where football once lifted the people's spirits, recently it simply reflected their depression. Only a World Cup win will really change that, and the problems Parreira and Zagalo face were clear in their strange performance in the qualifying tournament last autumn, when they lost to Bolivia, drew with Ecuador and Uruguay, and beat Venezuela, taking only three points from their first four matches - all away from home - but then won all four return fixtures, scoring 14 goals without conceding one.

'That bad start didn't affect us,' Parreira said, 'because we knew what was going to happen. You know, in a squad of 22 players, we had 15 from European clubs - and we had them together only 12 days before the first of the away games. But by the time we started to play the matches in Brazil, we'd had six weeks' preparation. Then the team was ready - physically, technically and tactically. And if you look at the results, it was so easy. There wasn't even a single threat to our goalkeeper. Preparation and training was the difference.'

The problem, of course, is that most of his best players are earning their living in Europe, 5,000 miles from home - Romario with Barcelona, Bebeto and Mauro Silva with Deportivo La Coruna, Rai and Ricardo Gomes with Paris Saint-Germain, Dunga with Stuttgart, Jorginho with Bayern Munich, Mozer with Benfica, Aldair with Roma, and Taffarel with Reggiana. Seven of those names are pencilled in on the team sheet which Parreira long ago decided he will be pinning up, barring accidents, for the opening match against Russia in San Francisco on 20 June.

The distance between Brazil and Europe makes it difficult not simply to assemble the squad, but to stay in touch with the players and keep tabs on their form - and it can lead, as well, to the sort of long-distance argument that Parreira has been having with Romario, his brilliant forward, who keeps issuing provocative communiques from Barcelona, criticising various aspects of Parreira's selection and strategy. In 1970, of course, it was a lot easier.

'The difference then was that we had three and a half months' preparation,' Parreira said. 'And there was not one single player in the squad from outside Brazil. Today I have to take a long trip abroad just to see one player, because reading about them in the papers or watching them on TV isn't good enough. And now, before the finals start, we're going to have only one month of preparation. Even then we might have to start without two or three players from Europe, who will join us maybe 18 days before the start of the competition. But it's no good lying down and crying about it. You have to adjust. And from now on, because of the demands on players, all World Cups will be like this.'

Is it a problem for the

Europe-based players to readjust to the Brazilian style?

'No. We're playing the traditional Brazilian way, 4-4-2, which is the way they've played since they were kids, so when they come back they don't find anything they don't already know. They readjust very comfortably. That's the advantage.'

When I asked Parreira to nominate the chief dangers to Brazil this summer, he mentioned Germany, Italy, Argentina, the Netherlands and Colombia. 'It's unbelievable how Germany always manage to play well in the World Cup, whether they have a good team or not. It's a mentality. The players concentrate very hard, they never relax. Italy has good players - and, unlike ours, they're all based at home. If they can get together according to Arrigo Sacchi's ideas, they'll be a beautiful team. Argentina is a favourite - when they beat Germany in December, without five of their best players, they looked outstanding. And they also know how to play in the World Cup. People aren't talking about Holland so much, but I think they have a solid team, with experience. Gullit is in good form, scoring goals.

'These are the big names that everybody talks about. Tradition, shirts, names, quality - it's all there, and so these are the danger teams for me. But in every World Cup there's a surprise, and this time I think it could be Colombia. They've had the same coach, the same players, for five years now, since before the last World Cup, and they've improved a lot. The only thing we don't know is how they'll react to the pressure of being talked about among the favourites.'

Parreira's own squad is full of experienced men in their late twenties, most with more than 50 caps to their names. Is there a chance that a young star will appear at the last minute, as the 18-year-old Pele did in 1958?

'It's possible. In the squad recently we've had Ronaldo, from Cruzeiro, who was 17 in November. And there's Rivaldo, from Corinthians, who's 21.'

But neither of them is in the first-choice selection . . .

'That's right. But Brazil hasn't won the World Cup for 24 years, and the pressure is enormous. When my players go on to the field they know they have 150 million people watching them, supporting them, even praying for them. Experience is going to be so important. That's why I trust this team. You know, when we needed to beat Uruguay to qualify, there were 100,000 people in the Maracana and everybody was talking about 1950, when Uruguay beat us in the World Cup final in the same stadium. But on the bus going to the ground I told Zagalo that I'd never felt more relaxed in my life. I was so cool, so confident . . . I surprised myself. Why? Because I'd worked with the team the whole week, I'd seen their faces, seen their feelings. We had eight players from the previous World Cup, and some of them were 29, 30, 31 years old. Those who play in Europe will live well for the rest of their lives, by Brazilian standards - but they are not world champions. They need this World Cup to finish their careers at the top.'

An honour which eluded Zico's generation . . .

'Yes. If you look at the players from 1970, they're all still famous and popular, even now. I'm sure even Zico misses being a world champion. So this is the last chance for these players. And against Uruguay they didn't disappoint me.'

Since then, progress has been halting. They beat Argentina 2-0 in Recife without the injured Romario, but even that couldn't silence the critics. In a newspaper poll last month, only 7.5 per cent of football fans indicated their approval of Parreira as the national team's coach, more than half preferring Tele Santana, coach of the world club champions, Sao Paulo - despite Santana's failure to win the 1982 and 1986 World Cup finals at the helm of a glittering team. And in France last week, Parreira's selection - again minus Romario, and also Bebeto and Mauro Silva, retained by La Coruna - sagged to a goalless draw in an exhibition match against a combined Paris Saint-Germain/Bordeaux side. More than 30,000 people were disappointed by a sterile display, with the ineffectual performance of the Brazilian midfield - notably that of their captain, the languid Rai - the main focus of criticism.

Afterwards, outside the dressing-rooms at the Parc des Princes, pinned to the wall by the microphones of the 60-odd Brazilian football critics who had followed him to Europe, Parreira endured the familiar interrogation with eloquence and good humour. But the journalists went away to transmit stories that appeared on Thursday morning under headlines like 'No inspiration, no imagination' (O Globo) and 'One to forget' (Jornal do Brasil).

Were you, I asked him, disappointed with what you saw?

'That's not really the right word,' he said. 'Of course, we should have won the game, although considering we had to make so many changes - four or five men who weren't here and another four changes during the game - I can't be too disappointed. But we weren't good. So many mistakes. Only one chance in the first half, only three in the second. I can't blame individuals. It's hard for them when we have to change the team so much.'

But they all know the Brazilian style - shouldn't you be able to slot people in? After all, you might have to.

'I know, I know. But tonight it didn't work. Do you know how many times we gave the ball away? Forty] Four zero] And this is the Brazil . . .'

It's amazing.

'Yes. Amazing.'

So can Brazil still win the World Cup?

'Yes. But, as usual, we're our own most dangerous opponents. We still have to solve our problems off the field. You have no idea how difficult that is. I speak to the players very directly - I tell them that if we don't get together as a team, we're not going to win the World Cup. But we're confident. Inside here' - he tapped his chest - 'it's OK.'

Outside, in the darkened streets of Paris, the samba drums had fallen silent.

(Photographs omitted)