Zagalo's Brazil lack magic

Norman Fox says that the world champions may not sparkle today
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The Independent Online
MARIO Jorge Lobo Zagalo was a tireless winger. He romped from end to end in the remarkable 1958 World Cup final in which Brazil beat Sweden 5-2, one moment providing goal- creating centres, the next heading off his own line. He was the stem on which flowered Pele's "beautiful game". Today, grey and ambling but sharp-eyed as ever, he faces Sweden again, this time as Brazil's coach in an Umbro Cup match far removed from the significance of that meeting so long ago.

He brings to Villa Park this afternoon a squad inherited from his predecessor, Carlos Alberto Parreira, who resigned after winning the World Cup last year and was sacked by his new club side, Valencia, last week. But Zagalo is without Bebeto, the only player in his chosen squad with a proven international scoring record. He makes light of his loss, pointing with a proud gesture across Villa's training pitch last week towards Brazil's latest of many putative reincarnations of the great Pele, the 18-year-old Ronaldo, who has been scoring profusely for PSV Eindhoven.

Ronaldo moved from Cruzeiro for a record pounds 4m and is probably being paid about pounds 1m a year. That highlights the problems for Brazilian football. Although leading players now earn good money in Brazil, the lure of such riches abroad is put in perspective by the fact that Ronaldo's ambition was to play for Flamengo, in Rio, but when they offered him a trial he could not afford the bus fare.

Brazilians, as always, are concerned that the increasingly fierce physical nature of their chaotic domestic game may brush off internationally, especially as Zagalo has a reputation for defensiveness. Adventure has not been apparent since the World Cup. In five matches they have been comfortable winners only against Slovakia (5-0) and they were highly uncomfortable away to Honduras (1-1).

The irony is that Zagalo is enormously popular and confident. Asked some pointed questions about Brazil's international football future, the 64-year-old grinned wickedly and said: "Come back and ask me in the year 2000. I'll still be here and Brazil will still be winning the World Cup."

Managing Brazil is like walking through a minefield on skis. What with his best players constantly being drawn away to Europe, club football getting into such a mess that at one point this season some teams were playing two games in a day, the scandals and the arguments when players such as the wayward Romario say they will never play for Brazil again, and the jumbo jet-load of media people who follow Brazil everywhere, Zagalo might already be a wreck.

"No, I've been involved in football for 40 years. I knew what it was like. I've done the job before in 1970 and in the Sixties. I've been involved with four teams who have won the World Cup."

So what should we expect of Brazil today and when they face England at Wembley next Sunday? Defensiveness and, Ronaldo apart, a lack of magical qualities. Training last week revealed nothing out of the ordinary.

Suggestions that Brazil no longer uphold their tradition as champions of skilful football are nothing new to Zagalo. "Look, we have won the World Cup four times. You only win by scoring goals. We are in transition. We are not going to reach any conclusions as a result of the matches in this competition."

He says that for years people in Europe have been expecting Brazilian teams to produce a constant flow of highly skilful, entertaining players, but that the game in Brazil has changed. After all, in last summer's World Cup in the United States they conceded only three goals. Sweden were the top scorers with 15 but, having played a frustrating drawn match against Iceland as recently as Thursday night, they may well struggle. Even against this comparatively pallid Brazil.

Brazil: Zetti (Sao Paulo); Jorginho (Kashima Antlers), Aldair (Roma), Ronaldao (Shimizu S-Pulse), Roberto Carlos (Palmeiras), Dunga (Stuttgart), Cesar Sampaio, Zinho (both Yokohama Flugels), Juninho (Sao Paulo), Edmundo (Flamengo), Ronaldo (PSV Eindhoven).

Sweden: B Andersson (Orgryte); Kamark (IFK Gothenburg), P Andersson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Bjorklund (IFK Gothenburg), Ljung (MSV Duisburg), Alexandersson (Halmstads), Thern (Roma), Mild (Servette), Erlingmark (IFK Gothenburg), Dahlin (Borussia Monchengladbach), K Andersson (Caen).