The fan at the check-in counter at Detroit's Metro airport on Wednesday morning seemed to be speaking on behalf of the whole nation. 'Parreira bad,' he said, with a dismissive grimace. 'Parreira too much retranca.' He drew his arms across his chest in a gesture of self-protection. 'Too much defensive.'
A few hours earlier, under the great white lid of the Pontiac Silverdome, the fan - a Sao Paulo lawyer in his fifties - had been among the yellow and green horde which greeted the 12th name in the pre-game team announcement with undisguised derision.
There were cheers and joyful waving of the bandeira, the national flag, as the numbers one to 11, from the goalkeeper Taffarel to the chief goalscorer Romario, boomed through the loudspeakers. But the 12th man got a very different reception.
'And the coach: Carlos Alberto Parreira.'
'BOOOOOOOO]' yelled the Brazilian fans in the balconies.
Down in the Silverdome's locker room, waiting to lead his team on to the pitch to meet Sweden in the third and last of their group matches, Parreira couldn't help but hear the hostile cries of his fellow countrymen.
'I don't pay any attention,' he said later, when he emerged from a scrum of Brazilian reporters after the match. 'It doesn't bother me. The spectators can think what they like, do what they like. What matters is the work we're doing.'
Nor, he insisted, had he been affected by their chanting during the second half, after Brazil had scored an equaliser and both teams appeared to have settled for a point apiece. The fans, thirsty for goals and glory, shouted for Ronaldo, the 17-year-old who scored 50 goals for Cruzeiro last season and who the romantics hoped would emerge this summer as the teenaged Pele did in Sweden in 1958.
But when Parreira took off Rai, his captain and playmaker, who had come under threat from the highly physical attentions of Hakan Mild, the Swedish substitute, he inserted not the boy wonder but the experienced Paulo Sergio. There was more booing from the galleries, followed by a sullen near-silence when the referee blew the whistle on a 1-1 draw.
'The fans can react however they want,' Parreira said. 'I have to do what I have to do.' Which is, of course, the biggest job in Brazil. The government's task of controlling an annual inflation rate of 300 per cent is nothing compared with Parreira's responsibility for ending a 24-year drought and making the dream of a fourth championship come true. For 150 million Brazilians, this is the year in which the disappointments of the past five World Cups will at last be set aside. As far as they're concerned, only the caution of their coach stands in their way.
'Tele]' said my friend in the check-in queue. 'Tele good] Tele ataquante]' And he thrust his palms out, pushing forward. He was referring to Tele Santana, the coach of Sao Paulo, the world club champions. Santana, who supervised the ill-fated Brazilian campaigns in Spain in 1982 and Mexico in 1986, is seen as the arch-
proponent of non-stop attacking football, and came out miles ahead of Parreira in a people's-choice newspaper poll earlier this year.
'You have to remember that Brazil is a nation of football coaches,' said Roberto Ardenghi, an attache at the Brazilian embassy in Washington, who has been accompanying the team around the US. And for everyone except Parreira, the coach's job is an easy one. You pick five forwards, three creative mifielders, a couple of defenders and a goalkeeper, and let them do what comes naturally, which means scoring twice as many goals as the opposition.
In your dreams, Cariocas and Paulistas] The rest of us know that real life isn't like that. Nevertheless, the anti-Parreira mood extends even to some knowledgeable non-Brazilians. 'They have a great team, with good players, but I expected more from them today,' Teofilo Cubillas remarked as he left the Silverdome. 'This was a poor exhibition,' said Cubillas, whose contribution to the Peruvian midfield in 1970 and '78 is fondly remembered. 'You know, 77,000 people came to see Brazil today, and a lot of them must have been very disappointed.'
What people object to is Parreira's selection of two essentially defensive midfield players, Mauro Silva and Dunga. Whereas the gritty Dunga protects the delicate creative talents of Rai and Zinho, Mauro Silva sits between the two centre-backs in a purely destructive role, with the full- backs, Leonardo and Jorginho, exploiting the wings. So far the scheme has let Parreira down only once, when Tommy Brolin put Kennet Andersson through to score the Swedes' fine goal.
At the noisy press conference afterwards, when I asked the coach if he planned to change the defensive formation for the game against the US, his rapid-fire vehemence gained even more momentum.
'I think you have seen another game,' he shouted. 'We did not play a defensive game at all] Did you see how many times Leonardo and Jorginho came up? And Aldair?'
OK, but will you really need a fifth defender against the US?
'Yes, of course. To have Leonardo and Jorginho as wingers, I've got to keep three against two at the back. Otherwise I'd be crazy. But Mauro Silva is not a libero] He is not] Believe me]'
His passionate insistence on this rather fine nuance of tactical definition made it clear how sensitive he is to comparisons with his detested predecessor, Sebastiao Lazaroni, whose use of a libero during Italia '90 brought down thoroughly justified accusations that the cherished ideals of Brazilian football were being betrayed.
But Parreira knows all too well that, whatever the fans think, a blind faith in the careless rapture of beach football is no longer enough to win World Cups, if indeed it ever was. The 1970 side, which played perhaps the greatest football anyone will ever see, was founded on a shrewd tactical pattern whose certainties provided the setting for the improvisational genius of Pele, Jairzinho and Roberto Rivelino. What Parreira - who acted as physiotherapist to that team - is trying to do is use his midfield creators, Rai and Zinho, and his wing-backs, Jorginho and Leonardo, to establish a similar launching pad for Romario and Bebeto, while taking the sensible precaution of ensuring that the remaining four outfield players keep the back door bolted.
If Brazil's football in the matches so far has been less than totally effervescent, then it has seldom been anything other than fascinating to watch. Five seconds after the Swedes kicked off in the Silverdome, for instance, the Brazilians won the ball and initiated a two-minute period of unbroken possession in which the ball was stroked to and fro around the midfield until Dunga saw a chance to spring Jorginho down the right. As an opening statement, it was awesome in its composure. The fantasy could come later.
Parreira's strategic approach has also been effective enough to lay the foundation for three goals in three games by Romario, each one a marvellous exposition of the born goalscorer's art. A Greaves or a Law might have reached Bebeto's corner kick with the
cobra-strike he produced against Russia, but neither could have matched the astonishing control, powerful running and sudden pinpoint shooting that left Cameroon's Joseph-Antoine Bell and Sweden's Thomas Ravelli helpless.
And yet just about the only Brazilian voice raised in support of Parreira last week came from the great Zico, the golden boy of Brazil's wilderness years. Back home in Rio de Janeiro, Zico was telling readers of his newspaper column to have patience. 'Let's have some respect for the coach and his ideas,' he wrote. 'He's got a team in his head, and a pattern, and a style of play. We can judge him at the end. Until then, let's leave him in peace.'
Peace? In San Francisco, where Brazil played their first two group matches and where they will meet the United States in a Fourth of July spectacular tomorrow, the vast lobby of the Hilton Hotel is perhaps the noisiest place on earth just now. There are more than 2,000 Brazilians staying in this hotel alone, representing about a tenth of the total yellow-and-green invasion of the Bay Area, and a tranquil time is not among their priorities. Night after night, the drums pound, the whistles shrill, the dancers sway and sambas are sung. Their expectations are high.
'The pressure is always there,' Dunga said in Detroit, 'as a result of the reaction that comes back afterwards. You know, if Brazil plays Cameroon, and Brazil wins, then it's because Cameroon was a disaster. If we play Sweden, and we try to win and Sweden plays for a draw and gets it, then it's because Brazil isn't a good team.'
'We've won the group,' Parreira said, trying to minimise the paranoia, 'and we're very comfortable. We know what we're doing. We're not going to change anything. This is our way, and it's the way we're going to keep.'
As for the US, Parreira noted that 'they played a beautiful game against Switzerland, and a very good one against Colombia, and they didn't deserve at all to lose against Romania. It should have been at least a draw. They have a fighting spirit, and they're a dangerous team on the counter-
attack. We have to be patient, and not get caught out.'
Dunga was looking forward to a better display than the one against Sweden. 'This was an ugly game for the fans, and ugly for the players, too. We did what was required. It will be hard against the US, but it will be a better match to play in, and to watch.'
Tomorrow the flags and drums will come out, and the gentle eucalyptus groves surrounding the venerable Stanford Stadium will be transformed into the venue for a giant day-long carnival. What can the Americans do, in the face of such commitment, such a deep and natural relationship with the game?
'The way to beat Brazil,' Thomas Ravelli suggested, 'is to score an early goal, and then to score a second. That might give you a chance.'
Was there anything that Bora's boys might have learnt from the way the Swedes coped? 'Maybe,' Ravelli said, 'they'll have seen that against Brazil it's no use to go running around after the ball. Each player must take his place in the field, and stick to it. Don't chase the ball. You'll never get it back that way. They're too skilful.'
If all else fails, perhaps the home players can take heart from the reception the visiting coach will get from his own supporters. Down in the locker room, Carlos Albert Parreira will be turning a deaf ear yet again, listening instead for the voices of his destiny.
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