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Is Brazil's dream team headed for nightmare?

It's summertime in Brazil, but there seems to be not much sunshine for the defending World Cup champions due to injuries, weak performances by some superstars and fears that mainstays are ageing.

india Updated: Mar 01, 2006 22:42 IST

It's summertime in Brazil, but there seems to be not much sunshine for the defending World Cup Football champions due to injuries, weak performances by some superstars and fears that mainstays are ageing.

"This will be a very difficult World Cup," national coach Carlos Alberto Parreira warned this week in the German magazine Kicker. "Everyone wants to trip us up."

With more than three months left for Brazil to reach top shape for the World Cup, Parreira's mood has become a closely watched barometer.

"The serene smile that Parreira showed off in the last few months has given way to a serious, worried look," columnist Renato Prado wrote in the O Globo daily.

Many Brazilians share his worry that goalkeeper Dida, defender Cafu, left back Roberto Carlos and strikers Ronaldo and Adriano are "going through a very bad phase".

Prado's fear that the dream team that won last year's Confederations Cup in Germany now "occasionally resembles a nightmare" reached fever pitch ahead of the World Cup warm up against Russia Wednesday.

World footballer of the year Ronaldinho bowed out of Wednesday night's match in Moscow after suffering an ankle injury in FC Barcelona's Champions League game Feb 22 at Chelsea.

Between the goalposts, injuries kept Dida, substitute keeper Julio Cesar and even number three Marcos away from Russia.

Experts are worried about the string of injuries. Jairzinho, a hero of Brazil's fabled 1970 world champion squad, warns that this year's edition may be too old.

"We failed in England in 1966 because the trainers fielded too many players from the 1958 and 1962 World Cup rosters," said Jairzinho, who is credited with discovering superstar striker Ronaldo.

Jairzinho named no names, saying only, "We all know which players these days are only performing at 50 to 60 percent of their former level."

In one way, the Russia game is a boon: The Brazilian football federation negotiated the team's biggest-appearance fee of $1.5 million for a single match.

As Brazil's last friendly before the May 15 deadline to submit World Cup team rosters, the game also sets the stage for Parreira's final choices.

Among those whose team spot is believed to be in jeopardy is Roque Junior, the long-time defender whom Parreira passed over for the Russia game. Leverkusen team-mate Juan is still fighting, while Bayern Munich's Ze Roberto and Lucio are believed to have safe World Cup tickets.

Then again, many Brazilians view warming up for the World Cup as a waste of time.

"Television, commercials, most of the newspapers and most of the fans have already decided that we are coming back from Germany with the sixth World Cup title," Folha newspaper columnist Jose Geraldo Couto wrote.

"Maybe we should recall the 1982 World Cup— when we were also the best and won nothing."

First Published: Mar 01, 2006 22:42 IST