Football: Copa triumph cures Brazil woes

Team revamped by a new coach have healed the wounds of Paris.
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The Independent Online
"TO BEAT Venezuela by half a goal to nothing would be a great result," was the modest, if slightly strange way that the Brazil manager, Wanderley Luxemburgo, approached his side's first game in this Copa America. They won that match 7-0 and nearly three weeks later, on Sunday night, they beat their oldest rivals, Uruguay, 3-0 with almost as much ease, to lift a second consecutive Copa, their sixth in all.

Little more than a year on from their humiliating 3-0 defeat in the World Cup final against France, Brazil needed to win this Copa to restore some pride as well as faith in the national team, and they won the tournament at a canter with six consecutive wins.

But as well as being a team that can, if it has to, still play exquisite attacking football, this was an altogether more humble group of players than the one who turned up, in body if not mind, on that now infamous evening in Paris last July.

Shocked by the events in the Stade de France, Luxemburgo, appointed after that defeat, has rebuilt a team that does not tolerate either egos or outbursts, unlike his predecessors who felt they had to grin and bear it whenever Romario or Edmundo opened their mouths. Those two have been jettisoned by Luxemburgo, who in his well-cut suit could just as easily pass for an investment banker as manager of the most popular national team in the world.

In their place have come the next generation of bright, attacking stars, Alex and Ronaldinho Gaucho, who showed their promise with two of the tournament's best goals.

In keeping with his desire to be fair to all, Luxemburgo did not shy away in this Copa from some difficult decisions, most notably involving Ronaldo.

When the Internazionale forward, who has had a season undermined by injuries, was playing badly he was taken off, including, once, to cheers of relief in the semi-final. Ronaldo did not take kindly to that, storming off to the dressing-rooms. But ever the diplomat, Luxemburgo simply said: "I treat him like any other player and if he is not having a good game then I take him off."

True to form, Luxemburgo did not make any rushed changes for the final. Ronaldo kept his place and put in a much-improved performance, including scoring the third goal that finished off Uruguay Afterwards he paid tribute to Luxemburgo. "I want to thank the manager for the confidence he had in me, because this helped me recover during the bad times that I have suffered in this Copa," he said.

Ronaldo is one of only four players in this Copa team remaining from the debacle against France, the others being Roberto Carlos, Cafu and arguably the player of the tournament, Rivaldo. In rebuilding the national side, Luxemburgo has gone for an industrious midfield, which stars the 23-year-old Bayer Leverkusen player Emerson, who protects an occasionally ponderous defence.

Rivaldo, the Barcelona playmaker with the sublime left foot, was the man of the match against Uruguay, scoring twice, including one chip past the goalkeeper, as well as setting up Ronaldo's goal. That was an act of supreme unselfishness, as it meant the pair finished the Copa as joint top goalscorers with five each. It is Rivaldo who makes Brazil tick, and it was significant in the World Cup final that when he went missing, so did Brazil's attacking options. He, too, praised Luxemburgo: "I played my best game against Uruguay and that was because the manager gave me some good advice."

Yet the manager is refusing to rest on his laurels, perhaps realising that a harder test lies ahead in qualifying for the 2002 World Cup, which, despite the tradition of the Copa, is the real aim. He said: "The unity of this squad was the key to winning this Copa and that has given us a base for the future."

For a country that places a heavy emotional investment in every result, winning this Copa was the best possible way to erase the painful defeat against France last summer. Brazil are back. Now all they have to do to is win the next World Cup.

BRAZIL: Dida; Cafu, A Carlos, J Carlos, R Carlos, Emerson, Flavio Conceicao, Rivaldo, Ze Roberto, Ronaldo, Amoroso.

URUGUAY: F Carini; M del Campo, F Picun, A Lembo, F Bergara (G Guigou, 74), A Fleurqin, W Coelho (G Alvez, 56), L Vespa (A Pacheco, 46), F Magallanes, C Callejas, M Zalayeta.