Football / World Cup USA '94: Parreira persists with game of patience: World Cup semi-finals: Sacchi determined not to fall into Bulgaria's trap while Brazil are under 'unbelievable pressure' against Sweden

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The Independent Online
WHAT COMES out of spending time in the company of Carlos Alberto Parreira is that, probably, he is a man of quite remarkable patience and understanding.

If Brazil's coach is putting on an act then it is perfect. He's up there with Brando and Hopkins. Hollywood should take a look at him.

You only have to consider the weight of expectation bearing down on Parreira to realise what he is going through, but it never intrudes upon his good humour. I can think of football coaches whose nails would now be down to the quick. They would be too distracted to pass the time of day and wishing they had taken up other employment.

With a semi-final against Sweden at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena coming up today, Parreira handles the strain impressively. 'The pressure is huge, unbelievable, beyond description, enough to drive you mad, but I was prepared for it,' he said. 'To get this far in the World Cup means nothing to Brazilians. Unless we become champions again I will have failed because there is no middle ground, but there is nothing to be gained from worry.'

Since taking over the team for the second time in 1992, a former goalkeeper who never played as a professional, Parreira has been striving to achieve a balance between natural flair and collective responsibility. 'I think we are getting close to it,' he told me at Brazil's quarters in Fullerton, some 20 miles south-east of Los Angeles.

'But nobody should think this to be a big change. The team of 1970 played with good organisation,' he said. 'When people speak about the great scorers we had then, Pele, Jairzinho, Rivelino, Tostao, they forget it was also the team that allowed fewest goals in the competition. Do they expect Brazil to win the World Cup disorganised? We have a flat back four, zonal marking and possession of the ball. Within that the players can be themselves. They can be Brazilians.'

Parreira used a word of the streets, 'ginga', to describe the best of Brazil's football in their quarter-final victory over the Netherlands on Saturday. It means panache. 'We were careless in giving up two goals but before that I think I saw signs of what every Brazilian wants from us.'

It is impossible for Parreira to appear in public, even wander around the team's hotel without coming under interrogation from some of the 400 or so newspaper, radio and television reporters who have been sent from Brazil: their questions are interminable. 'Coaching football is my life,' he said, 'but it is not possible to enjoy an experience like this. There is so much at stake, not only for the players, but many millions of our people.'

Finding a way past Sweden is the next item on Parreira's agenda. To this end the burgeoning alliance between Bebeto and Romario is of critical importance. 'They are the best attacking pair we have had since Pele and Tostao,' he said. 'Bebeto moves around more than Romario, who sticks closer to the penalty area. But they have similar instincts. They are our killers.'

Parreira believes that a big plus for Brazil is the support they can expect at the Rose Bowl. 'We seem to be very popular,' he said, coyly.

By then he was sitting in a large, crowded room answering questions pleasantly. 'I expect a difficult game against Sweden,' he said. 'They have strong players and it is a well organised team. They drew with us in the first round but by then we had already qualified.'

Meanwhile, Sweden go about things quietly, with rest of paramount importance after an exhausting experience against Romania. Individually, they are not in Brazil's class but collectively they have a lot going for them. 'Not all past champions have had fantastic players,' their goalkeeper, Thomas Ravelli, said, 'but they all had great fighting spirit.'

Tactics are important too. 'So far only the Dutch have tried three forwards against Brazil,' said the Swedish captain, Jonas Thern, who is expected to play after missing the quarter-final through injury. 'They scored twice but let in three so we have to think about keeping the defence tight.'

Brazil are giving some thought to Kennet Andersson, whose height and craggy persistence was a big problem for Romania. 'He can be a handful,' Parreira agreed, 'but I am confident that Marcio Santos can deal with him.'

The biggest problem for Sweden is how to cope with Bebeto and Romario. That is one of the reasons why Parreira goes around smiling.

BRAZIL (4-4-2): Taffarel (Reggiana); Jorginho (Bayern Munich), Aldair (Roma), Marcio Santos (Bordeaux), Branco (Fluminense); Dunga (VfB Stuttgart), Mauro Silva (Deportivo La Coruna), Mazinho, Zinho (both Palmeiras); Bebeto (Deportivo La Coruna), Romario (Barceona).

(Photograph omitted)