Brazil respect offers China slice of hope

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China's rulers have ordered the country's media to refrain from negative comment on the national team during the finals for fear of demoralising the players.

China's rulers have ordered the country's media to refrain from negative comment on the national team during the finals for fear of demoralising the players. If today's Group C tussle with Brazil goes according to pedigree, reporters may have to adapt the old Saturday-night Green 'Un ruse when the local side lost 6-1, raising the prospect of "Chinese in seven-goal thriller" headlines.

The four-time world champions should, by any criterion, be far too strong for the first-time qualifiers and book their second-round ticket with something to spare. Yet the exploits of Senegal and the United States have given hope to no-hopers everywhere, and Luiz Felipe Scolari appears anxious to disabuse Brazil's squad and supporters of the notion that they can look forward to something like a holiday weekend in this sub-tropical resort.

"We respect all our opponents," said Scolari. "You (the press) may not think China are strong, but we do."

If the travelling scribes were thinking like that, it may have been because Ronaldo had spoken of the game representing "a chance to boost our morale, gain in confidence and score goals." His striking partner Rivaldo, at least publicly, spoke with a little more caution. "We have to respect them because they are a national team, there have already been some surprises in this World Cup and we don't want to be on the end of one."

"We hope our second game will be much better than the first," he continued, "so the supporters become more confident in us game by game. They'll probably be cautious but we have to be careful, play calmly and try to score the first goal."

So there will be no experimentation in the starting line-up, as some papers demanded, and the introduction of Anderson Polga for the disappointing Edmilson in defence will probably be the only change from Monday's win over Turkey.

China's coach, the craggy Serb Bora Milutinovic, was in relaxed mood after training in the Cheju World Cup Stadium, talking up his side despite the defeat by Costa Rica. "We haven't shown our true capabilities yet," he said. "When we do, and with luck, we can beat anyone – including Brazil."

Brazil will hardly be less powerful than the Central Americans, and the absence of two of China's three players with foreign experience, the injured Fan Zhiyi and Sun Jihai, would bode ill for the country with the lowest Fifa ranking (50) of all the finalists.

At least the Brazilian football culture is not as alien to them as it once was. Two players, Li Tie and Li Weifeng, spent time in Brazil with an élite youth squad, ostensibly to learn to play "samba football". And ex-Brazilian internationals like Junior Baiano (who must be Senior Baiano by now) make rich pickings in the Chinese league.

Apart from the unusual nature of the fixture – the first meeting of the world's greatest footballing nation and its most populous country – the tournament has not seen a setting like this in its 72-year history. (The oddest may well have been White City, an upmarket but sadly now-demolished greyhound stadium just down the road from Queen's Park Rangers, which staged a match in 1966 because Wembley was going to the dogs itself that night).

Sogwipo is a city on Cheju, an island south of mainland Korea. It is dominated by an extinct volcano, whose convulsions shaped the unusual landscape. Growing out of and living on the lava ash are all manner of rare flora and fauna; appropriately for a venue hosting Brazil, the world's only nutmeg forest grows here.

Among the tackier tourist traps is a teddy-bear museum housing a bear dressed to look like Princess Diana. There is also a waterfall which, uniquely in Asia, crashes into the sea. Oh, and a river that reputedly flows uphill, though that sounds like folklore or fantasy. Talking of which, maybe Ronaldo and Rivaldo can remind us of when Brazilian football was a cross between an exotic bloom and a volcanic eruption. If they do, China's task may redefine the word "uphill".

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