Brazilian empire crumbling as complacency sets in

The people's team: Brazil
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The Independent Football

Brazil did more than anyone to launch Japanese football. Cultural ties between the two are strong and Brazil were very keen to make Japan their World Cup base. Instead they were given South Korea. It was interpreted as a loss of political force now João Havelange is no longer the Fifa president.

In compensation they have been handed what appears to be a comfortable group. Opponents Turkey, China and Costa Rica only total two World Cup appearances between them. Great tradition snobs, Brazilians instantly jumped to the conclusion that they have been given a bye into the second round – or even into the quarter-finals, since Group H, which will provide the second-round opposition, does not inspire great fear.

Bizarrely for a side that stumbled into the World Cup in such a humiliating fashion, Brazil will now have to guard against complacency. The fact that Turkey have only been to one World Cup will not make them a pushover. China may be an unknown quantity, but their coach, Bora Milutinovic, is certainly not – he has now guided five different sides to the finals. And Brazil have no excuse for taking Costa Rica lightly. In July's Copa America, Luiz Felipe Scolari's side lost twice to Central American opposition, a region from which Costa Rica qualified in first place.

In addition to Turkey, China and Costa Rica, Brazil's other opponent is their own incompetence. The other South American sides have emerged from the continent's marathon qualification campaign with settled squads, a pattern of play and a team spirit worthy of a club side. Brazil, on the other hand, seem no closer to finding a team since the qualifiers began, 20 months and three coaches ago.

In their 18 qualifiers they used 62 players. Argentina used 28. Scolari has settled on a three centre-back system, based, he says, on the fact that "our full-backs don't know how to mark and our centre-backs don't have the power to recover when they're left one-on-one with opposing strikers".

Brazil's most perceptive critic, the 1970 great Tostão, used to campaign for the introduction of the system. After seeing it in action he has changed his mind. "Since we don't know how to play it, we'd be better off scrapping it," he wrote.

Further forward there is the perennial problem of Rivaldo. Scolari is struggling to find the right position for the Barcelona man just as his four predecessors did before him. The most successful was the first, Carlos Alberto Parreira, who came to the conclusion that Rivaldo was too much of an individualist, discarded him and went on to win the 1994 World Cup. Scolari says that he wants "Rivaldo to turn himself into a leader". If history is any guide, however, the hugely talented, but equally strange, No 10 will disappear at the moment he is most needed.

Of all of the countries that made it through in 1994, none did as poorly away from home in qualifying as Brazil. Without a helping hand from the authorities they may not even have booked their place. Brazilian football is full of surprises. But, despite the comfortable start afforded to them by the draw, it would indeed be a surprise if they can emerge from such depths to win their fifth World Cup.

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