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   June 15, 2002 | 1730 IST


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Big Phil revives Beautiful Game

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Brian Homewood

Last September, Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari declared the Beautiful Game dead and buried.

Modern football, he said, had no place for the all-out and apparently carefree style with which Brazil won their first three world titles.

"There's no more Beautiful Game," he declared, referring to the term often used to describe Brazil's style in the past and the title Pele gave his autobiography.

"You are not going to see the Brazil of 1958, 1962 or 1970 again. We are in 2001."

Scolari directs Rivaldo and Ronaldo during trainingLess than one year later, the man know as Big Phil, famous for ordering his team to foul the opposition and chastising them for not doing enough time-wasting, is overseeing possibly the most exciting Brazilian campaign since Tele Santana's 1982 team.

The four times champions scored 11 goals and conceded three on their way to winning every first round game, and with the other challengers such as Argentina and France falling by the wayside, are now firm favourites for an unprecedented fifth title.

It is an amazing turnaround.

This time last year, Argentina were cruising through the World Cup qualifiers while Brazil were deep in crisis on and off the field.

A series of humiliating defeats left them in danger of missing out on the World Cup for the first time. At the same time, they were knocked out of the Copa America by Honduras and dumped out of the Sydney Olympics by nine-man Cameroon.

Scolari became the country's fourth coach in a year when he took over last June and seemed to be heading for the same fate as his predecessors as he lost three of his first five games in charge.


Slowly but surely, however, Scolari settled down, built a settled team and pulled Brazil out of the rut. It was not pretty to watch, as Brazil fielded up to eight defensive players in their team, but it did the job.

Brazilians had accepted that their World Cup would be tough, competitive but certainly not entertaining.

Ronaldo and RonaldinhoEverything changed, however, on the eve of their first game when Scolari, to general consternation, replaced one of his two tackling specialists in midfield with an attacking player.

With full-backs Roberto Carlos and Cafu attacking down the flanks, Juninho in midfield and the so-called "Three R" attack of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho firing on all cylinders, Brazil became a transformed team.

The return of the injury-plagued Ronaldo, who has scored four goals in three outings, has been fundamental.

The World Cup has come just at the right time for The Phenomenon, who, having barely played for this season, is returning to full fitness just as opposing defenders are wilting after a long year club football.

Their 5-2 win over Costa Rica seemed to belong to a bygone age as both teams attacked in cavalier fashion. Costa Rica coach, Brazilian-born Alexander Guimaraes, compared it to Brazil's famous 4-2 win over Peru in the 1970 quarter-final.

"I've heard a lot of commentaries from abroad speaking very well of Brazil and this makes us proud, and the best way to honour these words is by winning the World Cup," said full back Roberto Carlos on Saturday.


"It's the sort of football which everyone likes to see, of course we can improve still but the results so far are good."

The question now is whether it will end in glory as in 1970 or in tears as in 1982.

On the first occasion, the attack led by Pele, Jairzinho and Tostao was good enough to overcome the defensive deficiencies.

Rivaldo celebrates a goal with team mates.Twelve years later, one of the best Brazil teams of all time was undermined by almost kamikaze defending in a 3-2 defeat by Italy as Brazil crashed out of the competition.

This time, it is again a question of whether the attack can score enough goals to make up for the problems at the back.

While Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho have looked unstoppable up front, Brazilians have been alarmed by the gaping holes at the back which allowed the unsung Costa Ricans to carve out at least half a dozen clear-cut chances on Thursday.

Scolari -- a pragmatist who has opted for attack as he considers it to give Brazil their best chance of winning the tournament -- says that for the time being, he is not considering any changes.

He insists that the defence is good enough -- provided they listen to what he tells them.

"The trouble is that sometimes we relax depending on the scoreline," he said. "But when they do what we have practised in training, there are no problems."

Perhaps understandably, he became exasperated when Brazilian reporters asked him if he would add another defensive midfielder to help plug the holes at the back.

"I don't know what you people want. Before you were saying that we were too defensive and negative and saying that the best form of defence is attack. Now you are asking me why I don't put another defensive midfielder in the team."

"If we can score 11 goals in three games and concede three, then I think that in principle we are doing well."

Football supporters everywhere will be hoping that Big Phil, the man thought least likely to revive Brazil's traditional style, will stick by his guns until the end of the tournament.

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