KEIR RADNEDGE reports from RIO DE JANEIRO
—- Luiz Felipe Scolari has achieved exactly what he wanted: he has rebuilt Brazil effectively enough in six months to bring them through to the final of ‘their’ Confederations Cup.
Now they must confront Spain in the redeveloped Maracana here in Rio de Janeiro, a confrontation which has taken up even more media space in the last 24 hours than the expected resumption of street protests.
Brazil are favourites. They struggled all over the field against Uruguay on Wednesday in Belo Horizonte but boast the momentum of four successive victories. They will also be far fresher than a team who played a day later and were taken through extra-time by Italy in Fortaleza.
Scolari knows that if Brazil lose to Spain, given their status as world and European champions, he will still be credited with reaching the final. He would even be spared the difficulties of complacency and over-confidence.
In all his press conferences Scolari is careful to underline that his team are a work in progress. But he is also careful to speak direct to the TV cameras and ‘work’ the crowd out there across the nation.
Right from Day One last November Scolari has developed a mission to rebuild the relationship between the team and fans long since impatient and cynical about playboy players.
He was at it again during his press conference after the semi-final victory over Uruguay.
Scolari had played the crowd perfectly during the game, bringing on local starlet Bernard from Atletico Mineiro as his first change. The thrill of the moment lifted the crowd’s support for the entire team on to another plane, as Scolari acknowledged.
He said: “The players made a huge effort but it was the fans who gave us the victory. They made the players feel strong when we were having difficulties. The fans are the most important driving force we have and this is what Brazil needs everywhere.
“It’s beautiful to see how people sing the national anthem. We are returning everyone to the idea of all cheering for our national team. The players needed to experience this and they have responded very well. We are building this team on the right track.
“We have enjoyed the support in Fortaleza, Salvador, Brasilia and Belo Horizonte as well as in Rio [before the cup]. So now we are back to Rio and we hope we are going back twice for finals – not only this time but also for the final of the World Cup.”
Scolari, while encouraging support, is also careful to caution that the team are not yet the real deal.
He said: “We are building a team and there are situations with which we have yet to deal. Still, we are growing up and we can only learn by playing.
“That’s how it was against Uruguay which is always a difficult match because there is a whole history, a lot of rivalry and we get a little bit nervous which is normal because we are not ready yet. We have to go through these and other challenges and grow up to reach the most important competition, the World Cup, in a better shape.”
Scolari also jumped to the defence of those players in the media line of fire. Oscar is one because he is not allowed as far forward as with Chelsea.
“Maybe Oscar is not playing as well as the press believes,” said Scolari in a pained schoolmasterly tone, “yet he is doing exactly what we are telling him and he is dedicated to it. We are sacrificing him to benefit other players. He could play better, he has all the skills but he is doing exactly what we expect of him.”
Scolari has also been careful not to allow any suggestion that this team can be compared, a year out, with the one who went on to land the World Cup in Yokohama in 2002.
“The 2002 team were much more mature,” said Scolari. “That team were ready but this team will have to face many hurdles and grow up, not only playing as a national team but in their club teams, so they can become more mature
“For example, we will all be cheering for Atletico Mineiro in the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores because it’s an opportunity for them to learn and that will help us to decide who is going to be in our line-up.”
Then, pulling together both basic themes, Scolari could not resist winding up both the sense of expectation and fans’ support ahead of the final.
He said: “Considering the work we have been able to do in the last 14 days, I would say the main goals have been met. We have been able to reach the final, make the players feel like a team and show our fans that we have a good team and can make it to the final of the World Cup.
“The only way to convince them was to go to this [Confederations Cup] final and now our major goal is to win that final.”