Crunching tackles replace Brazilian skill
Brazil's exuberant attacking play has illuminated past World Cups.
But now the unique skills of players such as Pele, Garrincha, Leonidas, Rivelino, Zico and Socrates have been replaced by the bone-crunching tackles of a new breed of midfield aggressors.
In the past decade, Brazilian football has become among the most violent in the world with an astonishing average of around 55 fouls a game in domestic matches.
The disease has spread to the national team, who are now under the command of Luiz Felipe Scolari, a man who publicly encourages his players to foul the opposition and chastises them for insufficient time-wasting.
The supply of creative players has dried up, so much so that Romario, who spearheaded Brazil's 1994 World Cup-winning campaign, is regarded as the country's most gifted player at the age of 36.
However, despite a tearful appeal to Scolari and widespread public support, Romario was still omitted from the Brazil squad announced on Monday.
Scolari, hassled by angry fans in the centre of Rio de Janeiro, said his decision was final.
Throw in scandal and chaos off the field and Brazil, the only country to have taken part in all 17 World Cups, will be going into the 2002 tournament at one of the lowest ebbs in history.
Although they are automatically included among the favourites, it would need a dramatic transformation for them to claim a record fifth title.
They spluttered through the qualifiers, losing six times in 18 matches to finish one point behind modest Ecuador and a massive 13 behind their arch-rivals Argentina.
Brazil failed to settle on a team, using four coaches and 59 players in a campaign which included humiliating defeats against Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia and Paraguay -- teams which Brazil's strikers used for shooting practice in the past.
In between, they flopped dramatically at the Confederations Cup, winning one of five matches and bowing out with a defeat to Australia in the third-place play-off. They were eliminated by Honduras in the Copa America.
The team's demise has coincided with striker Ronaldo's two-year injury lay-off.
The Inter Milan player last year reappeared after two knee operations kept him out of action for two years but was then hit by three muscular injuries in quick succession.
The third struck on December 23 and Ronaldo's return to action was delayed until mid-April. He struck form at just the right time, with four goals in as many games for Inter, but was left in tears when a shock 4-2 defeat to Lazio on Sunday denied him his first Italian title.
"My legs are fine now," he said before the Lazio match. "I have the strength inside me and I have a real desire to make up for that lost time."
Scolari has also decided to persist with Rivaldo, despite recent injury problems and the fact that he looks a lethargic, ponderous shadow of his Barcelona self when playing for his country.
The chaotic goings-on in the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) have not helped the team.
During the qualifiers, the CBF lost count of the number of yellow cards its players had picked up, called up players who were already injured and kept getting confused over FIFA regulations on the release of players by European clubs.
Domestic football is in a shambolic state with a plethora of incomprehensible tournaments, plummeting attendances and an exodus of the top players abroad.
The outcry was so great that two Congressional commissions of inquiry were set up last year to investigate suspected maladministration and corruption in the sport.
Both said they found evidence of chronic maladministration and misuse of funds, often for political purposes, by the CBF.
CBF president Ricardo Teixeira was among 17 leading officials accused of a variety of crimes.
The commission of inquiry in the Senate accused Teixeira of "negligent administration" and of living in luxury at the CBF's expense. So far, Teixeira has survived mounting pressure to resign and was given a vote of confidence in January by a CBF assembly.
Meanwhile, the national team's problems continue.
Scolari's preparations suffered another setback in February when the CBF decided not to play on the date allocated by FIFA for international friendlies because it coincided with Carnival.
Instead, Brazil arranged a home match against Iceland on a March date which had not been approved for FIFA, meaning that both countries had to field reserve teams and rendering the fixture useless.
Scolari, who also omitted midfielder Djalminha after he head-butted his coach at Deportivo Coruna last week, has no illusions about his fate if Brazil perform poorly. The Brazilians have been grouped with Turkey, Costa Rica and China in group C.
"If I don't win, I'm dead meat," he said. "My duty is to win. We don't have a second-place culture in this country."