The global market of footballers was still in its infancy when Brazil turned up for Italia '90 with a squad split down the middle, half based at home and half based in Europe. The two camps feuded and Brazil fell early. It is no longer a problem. There is no more split. Nowadays the entire team is on parade in Europe's Champions' League.
In France '98, an omnipresent advertising campaign was part of a process whereby Brazil were hyped beyond their capabilities - especially since, as holders, they had not had to qualify, and had lacked serious competitive games to whip their side into shape. This, too, is no longer a problem. This time there was no automatic place for the holders, and Brazil had a marathon sequence of 18 games over more than two years to build a team for Germany.
The clear conclusion is that Brazil have their best chance of winning a World Cup in Europe since 1982. It is a comparison that will send shivers down Brazilian spines. In Spain that year, coach Tele Santana's side played sparkling, exuberant football, but lost. Now Carlos Alberto Parreira's men are expected to produce a similar sparkle, but with a different result.
It is a tough task. Just as well, then, that this time the hype would seem justified. They are a different side from the class of '82; Brazilian football has changed in the subsequent decades, with less space for the midfield general. The strength of this side is further up the field. They have a collection of attacking talent that bears comparison with anything they have ever fielded.
Earlier this year, Parreira said that "this is the most attacking formation Brazil have ever played. There is no other team in the world that play as openly as we are doing, with four players with strong attacking characteristics. We're taking advantage of what we have." The chairman of the board is Ronaldo, motivated by the challenge of becoming the all time top scorer in World Cup Finals. Alongside him, awesomely strong and with a howitzer left foot, is Adriano, whose record of 22 goals in 30 caps speaks for itself. Behind them are two of the greatest creative talents in the game: Kaka, direct, efficient and deadly; and the irresistible Ronaldinho, the world's best player and keen to show he can reproduce Barcelona form for his country.
It all means that the outrageously talented Robinho will almost certainly have to settle for a place on the bench. As expected, the Real Madrid youngster is not finding the adaptation to European football straightforward. But the ability is there. He can, as Paddy Crerand once said of George Best, leave his markers with "twisted blood", and will doubtless have a role to play in the World Cup, even if only as a second-half substitute.
Add Cafu and Roberto Carlos, two of the greatest attacking full-backs ever, the solidity of Emerson and sinuous versatility of Ze Roberto in midfield, the aggression of centre back Lucio and the calm security of goalkeeper Dida, and the strength of Brazil's challenge is clear. They have a blend of skill and experience, much of which has been acquired in Europe, that establishes them beyond doubt as World Cup favourites.
This is a word which worries coach Parreira, well aware that Brazil's triumphs have usually come when they entered the tournament with even their own supporters doubting their chances. Last week he gave a lecture on World Cup history to a conference of Brazilian coaches, and dwelt noticeably on Hungary's shock defeat in the 1954 final.
Brazil's coach is already working hard to counter the euphoria that can grip Brazilian camps during the course of the World Cup. Press and even players will hawk the line that "we can only lose to ourselves". Parreira knows it is not true. He has recently managed to improve his team's defending in the air, but the weakness could re-emerge under pressure. The space behind the attacking full-backs is always a vulnerable point for Brazilian teams - which helps explain the growing popularity of fielding three centre backs in their domestic game.
The sixth World Cup win, then, will need sweat and luck as well as natural talent. But win or lose, this Brazil side should, like the team of 1982, be remembered for years to come for moments of magic they produced along the way.Reuse content