Brazilians aware of physical threat but vow to turn on style

Socceroos will scrap to the finish but Parreira puts faith in technique of the Samba Boys
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The Independent Football

It says as much about Australia's impact on these World Cup finals as it does about Brazil's struggle with the weight of expectation that the latter's coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, has already announced that his side will eschew a physical confrontation when the two teams meet in the Allianz Arena this evening. His team, he knows, are struggling to find a cutting edge and face a potentially awkward scrap with the spirited Socceroos, who are certain not to be overawed.

The defending champions, who were lucky to beat Croatia 1-0 in their opening Group F clash, have yet to show any of the magic and artistry that installed them as pre-tournament favourites to lift the trophy for a sixth time. Parreira, who was in charge of their stubborn and victorious team in the United States in 1994, knows, however, that the group phase is merely for industrial football, and that the time for white tie and tails does not arrive for another week.

"At this stage, we are happy to win and to make progress," he said. "We hope to see our performances improve as the tournament unfolds." Parreira's job, after all, is to keep the whole project in perspective and mould a team who win matches.

It should not be overlooked that Brazil are unbeaten in 11 international outings and have not conceded a goal in five. That said, Parreira knows that an attack that looked slick, inventive and devastating - without Ronaldo - when it carried Brazil to success here in the Confederations Cup a year ago seemed to run down blind alleys and fire blanks against Croatia. Kaka's well-taken goal apart, there was not much to please Brazil fans in Berlin.

Parreira, of course, faces a wily and highly respected counterpart in Guus Hiddink, the Dutchman who, after taking Holland to the last four in 1998 and inspiring South Korea to the semi-finals four years ago, has now become an adopted Aussie following their 3-1 win over Japan in Kaiserslautern, Australia's first at the World Cup finals. That kind of result does wonders not only for the victors' confidence, but also for their prospective opponents' concerns. Brazil will be wary of the physical power, endurance and athleticism of the Aussies.

"Australia are a very physical team, but we are not going to fight with them," Parreira said. "It is our business to play football, to put the ball on the ground and to impose our style and technique. This is a decisive match, because whoever wins will almost certainly qualify."

Parreira may think that way, but Hiddink is regarding the Australians' final group game against Croatia as their decisive fixture. Some Australian players have family links to the Croatians, notably Mark Viduka, and a red-hot night beckons in Stuttgart on Thursday.

For that reason, Hiddink is considering resting his four men with yellow cards - Tim Cahill, John Aloisi, Craig Moore and Vince Grella - against Brazil to make sure they are available when it matters.

As a result, today's contest may well turn into a fitness test for Ronaldo. The top scorer at the 2002 World Cup finals with eight goals, Ronaldo needs two to equal Gerd Müller's record of 14 in the finals, but last Wednesday, when he should have been sharpening his finishing skills, he was taken to hospital complaining of dizziness and nausea. After the fiasco in Paris in 1998, when Luiz Felipe Scolari selected Ronaldo despite the player suffering a fit, there were feelings of déjà vu, even though doctors said there was nothing wrong with Ronaldo.

Nipping any negative speculation in the bud, Parreira announced on Thursday that Ronaldo will play against Australia. He will hope the Real Madrid striker can remember the hat-trick he hit against the Australians in a 6-0 win in the Confederations Cup final in 1997. Against a weakened Australia, he may do it again; on the other hand, he may be withdrawn and lose his place to Robinho, once dubbed the "new Pele" but now looking more like someone in search of a true role.

The criticism of Brazil in general and Ronaldo in particular is part and parcel of the early stages of a modern World Cup, and it was no surprise his team-mates supported him after his forlorn show against Croatia.

"Ronaldo is a player who has a lot of quality and the trust of all his team-mates," said Ronaldinho. "We have a lot of confidence that in the next match he will be able to do everything he is capable of to help Brazil to another win."

Anything less than that, of course, and Australia will not only be topping the group and rescheduling their return tickets Down Under, but Brazil will no longer be dancing in the streets. However, it is an unlikely scenario, and the samba is likely to drum through the small hours again tonight.