Football: World Cup - Public blame Zagallo for poor team spirit

The fans fear that Brazil have some talented individuals, but they are not yet a team. By John Lichfield
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The Independent Online
ONLY ONE country - Germany - has ever lost a match in the World Cup first stage and gone on to win the competition. Not many people know this, except in Brazil, where everyone knows it.

The Brazilian press and public have divided into two camps since the reigning World Champions' contrived an otherwise undamaging 2-1 loss to Norway on Tuesday. There are those who were incensed by the defeat and blame the coach, Mario Zagallo, but think that it does not matter much. And there are those who were incensed, blame Zagallo and think that it matters enormously.

It is the lot of all Brazilian coaches - even Zagallo, involved in four World Cup victories as player and official - to be detested by the Brazilian fans. He says, reasonably enough, that the "real World Cup" begins tonight, with Brazil's awkward first knock-out game against Chile at the Parc des Princes.

There was no sign of Brazilian nerves or tension at the last training session at the Parc last night. The Brazilians trained with the carefree joy, and humour, of 11-year-olds on a muddy park pitch. And with considerably more grace. Watching Brazilian footballers, even in training, can be a tactile pleasure, like stroking a cat with long fur.

But the truth is that the Brazilians have yet to play well, by their own standards, in this competition. Ronaldo is omnipresent in France - on advertising hoardings and magazine fronts, on the back of every Brazilian fan's shirt. His impact on the pitch has been limited to one goal against Morocco.

Denilson, the revelation of Le Tournoi de France last summer, impressive in training yesterday, has flitted ineffectually in and out of the team. The defence has looked vulnerable, especially when the wing-backs Cafu and Roberto Carlos charge up field, leaving not three, but two central defenders to mind the shop.

There is, it is rumoured, deep dissension within the squad: Dunga, the captain, publicly rollicked Bebeto for ignoring his defensive duties during the Moroccan game last week; Dunga and Roberto Carlos are said to be barely on spitting terms. Pele, the greatest Brazilian of them all, has criticised the team as "slow", "badly prepared" and "parsimonious".

The consensus of the Brazilian and French press is that the team contains great individuals but it is not yet a team: and that that is Zagallo's fault.

Curiously, the atmosphere of disappointed expectation surrounding the Brazilians has been mirrored by a series of commercial flops in the activities created to make money out of their name. The "Brazilian Village", a pre- fab theme-park beside the Stade de France, closed down this week in a flurry of recriminations and unpaid bills.

The small town of Ozoir-la-Ferriere, near Chantilly, where the world champions are staying, planned to make a fortune by attracting 5,000 fans to the team's twice-daily training sessions. The Selecao has only trained once a day in the local stadium; at most 500 fans have made the trip from Paris; the town faces a pounds 100,000 loss.

Zagallo, who has seen it all before, makes a good show of ignoring the controversy which invariably surrounds the Brazilian squad. The Norwegian defeat, he said yesterday, was "without a shadow of a doubt, just one of those things that happen on the journey. We lost concentration in the last seven minutes, that's all. The players know what went wrong. I am absolutely convinced that this defeat will do us an enormous amount of good, in all departments. The mistakes we made in Marseilles will not be repeated in the Parc des Princes. I am not worried. Brazil will triumph."

For tonight's last-16 game, Zagallo hinted that he would return to the line-up which started the tournament against Scotland on 10 June. Aldair will return in defence and Cesar Sampaio in midfield, displacing Denilson. Much of yesterday's training session was taken up with penalty practice: suggesting that the Brazilians have not ruled out a close game.

Chile's hirsute striker Marcelo Salas has been three times as effective as than Ronaldo so far. But the man the Brazilian defenders most fear is Salas's partner, Ivan Zamorano, with his supernatural ability to jump above taller defenders and hang unsupported in mid-air.

The rest of the Chilean team should, in theory, not trouble the Brazilians. Much depends, as Zagallo suggests, on the psychological chemistry produced by the Norwegian defeat. Will it spur the players to produce their best form and play as a team at last? Or will that curious statistic - only the Germans have won after losing in the first stage - play on their minds?