The hosts of the 2010 World Cup, South Africa, are to place their fortunes, and possibly those of the tournament's, in the hands of a Brazilian journeyman coach and his trusted clipboard.
Joel Santana, 59, appeared to be reaching the end of what, until now, had been a typical career for a Brazilian coach in which he has won trophies and been sacked by a succession of clubs, only to keep coming back for more.
Despite having no experience with a national side and only a couple of brief stints with clubs in the Middle East and Japan, Santana has been given the chance to coach the host nation of the first World Cup to be played in Africa.
Santana's club, Flamengo, said he had agreed terms to replace compatriot Carlos Alberto Parreira, who quit for personal reasons. The decision has still to be confirmed by the South Africa Football Association (SAFA).
The coach is known for a down-to-earth style and a trademark clipboard, which he has faithfully stood by in an age when many coaches have turned to laptop computers. Describing the offer as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he was typically modest.
"I'm happy that I'm being recognised outside Brazil. It shows that my work is not all that bad," he said.
Santana is a veteran survivor of the topsy-turvy world of Brazilian coaching where success, though wildly celebrated, is quickly forgotten. He has had four stints with both Flamengo and Fluminense and three with their Rio de Janeiro rivals Vasco da Gama.
Santana has also coached Botafogo, Bahia, Vitoria, Coritiba, Corinthians, Guarani and Internacional. He has won the Carioca (Rio de Janeiro state) championship with Flamengo, Fluminense, Botafogo and Vasco, plus the Brazilian championship and Copa Mercosur with Vasco.
But he has also experienced the other side of the coin and is no stranger to the sack. Between 2003 and 2004, he was fired by four clubs, lasting five games at Guarani and 16 in a subsequent spell at Internacional.
But in 2005, he bounced back to save Flamengo from relegation and returned to the same club two years later, where he led them from 15th place in the Brazilian championship to a top-four finish and a place in the South American Copa Libertadores.
Most commentators agreed that the sum of Flamengo's team was greater than its parts, a quality which may have attracted the South Africans. Santana will again have limited resources, yet South Africa are seen as needing to perform well in 2010 to maintain local enthusiasm for the tournament.
After four spells with a club who claim to have 25 million fans and boast one of the most fickle followings anywhere, pressure is something that Santana is used to coping with.
In south-east Asia, Cambodia are on a drive to recruit bigger players for their struggling side after years of being thrashed by more physical teams, the country's football federation president said yesterday.
Sao Sokha said the country's diminutive players had little chance against bigger, stronger opponents and it was time for a complete overhaul. "We need to have bigger and taller players to play against tough foreign players," he said. "The new recruits must meet the requirement of [being] at least 1.7 metres tall, young, strong and able to run fast."
Cambodia's team of labourers, security guards and policemen have conceded 21 goals in their last four matches. The team have never qualified for a tournament outside south-east Asia.
Sao Sokha said 30 players had so far been recruited and would be paid up to $250 (£125) a month – eight times the salary of a civil servant.
"Lots of people like to watch the game, but it is difficult to find qualified people to play it," he said.
"I urge all parents to let their children play football so that it will help us to find good players – players who can attract spectators like rock bands do."
* Patrice Neveu has signed a two-year contract to coach Democratic Republic of Congo in their bid to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. The Frenchman's past experience includes stints at the helm of Guinea and Niger. Cash-strapped Congo have slipped to 85th in Fifa's world rankings.Reuse content