Football: From Luxembourg to Luxemburgo...

Tim Vickery in Rio de Janeiro on the pressures facing Brazil's new coach
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THE BUILD-UP to the World Cup brought out every trace of arrogance in Brazilian football. Brazil could only be beaten by themselves, went the saying, which made it difficult to explain the crushing defeat at the hands of France. In the days after the World Cup final, bars all over Brazil reverberated with talk of conspiracy. Brazil had thrown the game. Messages circulated on the Internet explained why - a lurid tale involving France's rising unemployment and Brazil's desire to host the finals in 2006.

Edgar Ramos de Almeida Pinheiro, a lawyer, decided to take the talk one step further. He petitioned a legal hearing into the mysterious events of the World Cup final. To general surprise, a month ago a Rio judge decided there was a case to answer. At one stage it seemed that the World Cup coach, Mario Zagallo, the team doctor, Lidio Toledo, the striker Bebeto and the Brazilian FA chief, Ricardo Teixeira, would have to make a court appearance. As it emerged, the truth proved far less dramatic. The Brazilian FA can reply by means of a letter from their lawyer. We have been spared the sight of Zagallo cantankerously taking the stand, or Teixeira giving his testimony swathed in bandages after recently falling off a horse.

The case aroused little interest in Brazil. With a new coach, Vanderley Luxemburgo, already appointed, the former world champions are much more concerned with recapturing their crown on the field. Luxemburgo was aware of the real reasons behind Brazil's failure in France. Enchanted with the football of Holland, he realised that tactically Brazil had fallen behind. The key problem was identified as the lack of all-round midfielders. "It's not enough to say that you play 3-5-2 or 4-4-2," he said. "What's important is having a group that can vary the play. A competent midfielder can both attack and defend. What's the point of having a player who just marks or just defends if I can have one man who does both? In modern football you always have to know what to do with the ball, and versatility is fundamental." The new role model was Holland's Philip Cocu, capable of filling any position on the field, and Luxemburgo's midfield would be built on the all-round talents of Vampeta, formerly a team-mate of Cocu's at PSV Eindhoven.

A stuttering start was made last month when Brazil were held 1-1 by Yugoslavia. The result could well have been worse had the game not been officiated by the Brazilian referee Sidrack Marinho. Brazil equalised from a wrongly awarded free-kick, and could not force a victory despite playing nearly the entire second half against 10 men when the visitors' Grozdic was sent off. Had Marinho applied the same criteria to the Brazil team, one of their centre-backs would have been red-carded and the other would still be in prison.

Ironically, the biggest problem so far faced in this new age of versatility is the fact that the coach is doing two jobs. Luxemburgo decided to stay on until Christmas as coach of the Corinthians club. Two months ago, when he was given the Brazil job, Corinthians were the runaway leaders of the Brazilian championship, and all things seemed possible. Since then the club have suffered an alarming slump in form. They produced a disastrous campaign in the Copa Mercosur which has given ammunition for those who say Luxemburgo lacks international experience. A series of domestic defeats has seen the club sink to fourth place, and a tame 4-1 capitulation to Flamengo last weekend led to fans calling for his resignation. The strain is showing. Luxemburgo has confessed to tiredness and, always highly strung, he has at times appeared on the verge of hysteria. He had a furious public rant at the gifted but temperamental Marcelinho Carioca, threatening the tiny player with the axe for both club and country.

Luxemburgo will be pleased he did not carry out his threat. It was a fine volley from Marcelinho that put Brazil on the path to a 5-1 win over Ecuador in Washington DC on Wednesday. Elber of Bayern Munich grabbed a hat-trick and the captain Cafu completed the scoring in the game when Brazil's new coach was on a hiding to nothing.

This was a fixture organised by Nike. First it was supposed to be against Mexico, then against Colombia in New York. Both fell through and Ecuador were hurriedly arranged as replacements. Out of action for months, Ecuador did not even have a coach; the Under-23 manager Polo Carrera was promoted especially for this game.

Before the game Luxemburgo worked hard to protect himself in case his team disappointed. Football, he emphasised, was the only team sport where the best side did not necessarily win. "Who would have thought," he said, "that Turkey would beat Germany or Wales would win in Denmark?"

Brazil's coach needed a convincing win to restore his credibility, and Ecuador's goalkeeper came to his aid. Ulises De La Cruz had just pulled the score back to 2-1 when a succession of blunders by Espinosa presented Brazil with three goals inside 10 minutes. Relieved as he was with his first win, Luxemburgo is well aware that future tests will be much stiffer.