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   June 18, 2002 | 1150 IST


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Lady Luck, Brazil's close companion

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Lady Luck has been Brazil's close companion since they started their World Cup campaign more than two years ago and there is no hint that she is going to desert them now.

She has already visited them in Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre, and Sao Luis on the way to the World Cup, she helped them get their tournament off to a winning start in Ulsan two weeks ago and popped in again in the Japanese city of Kobe on Monday, just when they needed her most.

Ever since they set out on their bid for a fifth title in the Colombian capital of Bogota in March 2000, Brazil seem to have enjoyed the rub of the green.

Controversial refereeing decisions have gone their way and they also benefited from an unexplained rule change just as their qualifying campaign appeared to be floundering.

To cap it all, they then found themselves in the easiest of the first round groups when the draw was made for South Korea and Japan.

Brazil were hugely fortunate to come away from Monday's second round match against Belgium with a 2-0 win after the unrated Europeans had what seemed a legitimate goal by captain Marc Wilmots disallowed late in the first half when the game was still goalless.

Television replays suggested that Wilmots outjumped his marker Roque Junior by fair means before heading into the net but referee Peter Prendergast of Jamaica disallowed the effort for pushing.

Wilmots said afterwards that Prendergast had admitted to his mistake after watching a replay during the halftime break.

Brazil then survived a wave of Belgian pressure early in the second half before snatching an undeserved win with goals by Rivaldo and Ronaldo.


Brazil's luck began in the second game of the World Cup qualifiers at home to Ecuador, when the visitors' captain and playmaker Alex Aguinaga hobbled off after half an hour in which he had led his team to a 1-0 lead with a magnificent chipped goal.

With Aguinaga gone, Brazil hit back to win 3-2.

In their next home game against Uruguay, they were again fortunate.

Uruguay were leading 1-0 at the Maracana with five minutes left when a highly dubious penalty for an alleged foul on Rivaldo allowed Brazil to save their unbeaten home record in World Cup qualifiers.

It proved to be a crucial point as Brazil then went into freefall.

The four times champions, who had only ever lost one qualifier before, crashed to six defeats away from home and their proud record as they only nation to have played at every World Cup was suddenly under threat.


By the time Luiz Felipe Scolari took over as coach in June last year, Brazil had dropped to fourth in the 10-team table from which only four sides qualified directly.

Part of their problem had been playing their home games in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, where notoriously fickle crowds began jeering and insulting if they did not score a hatful of goals by halftime.

Brazil desperately wanted to change venue but rules clearly stated that they had to stick with the two cities they had chosen at the outset.

With no explanation, Brazil were suddenly allowed to play a crucial game at home to Paraguay in the southern city of Porto Alegre -- close to where Scolari grew up.

Brazil, backed by a friendlier crowd, won 2-0 but only after another piece of good fortune. Early in the second half when, with Brazil 1-0 ahead, Rivaldo punched the ball away in his own penalty area but the referee waved play on.

Defeats in Argentina and Bolivia left Brazil needing to win their last game at home to Venezuela to qualify for Japan and South Korea.

Once again, the game hinged on a refereeing decision. Brazil striker Edilson appeared to foul Venezuela defender Jose Manuel Rey, leaving the way open for Luizao to score the crucial first goal and shatter their opponents morale as Brazil went on to win 3-0.


Despite their dismal form, Brazil were seeded for the following month's World Cup draw, and were thrown into the same group as Turkey, playing their first cup for 48 years, debutants China and tiny Costa Rica, who had only taken part in one previous finals.

Meanwhile, Argentina, who finished the qualifiers 13 points ahead of their arch-rivals, were plunged into the so-called group of death alongside Sweden, Nigeria and England.

Brazil made a sticky start against Turkey, falling behind to a goal late in the first half. Ronaldo equalised shortly after the break and the game appeared to be heading for a draw -- before another decision went in their favour.

Luizao was fouled outside the penalty area as he homed in on goal, but managed to continue his fall and roll into the area. A penalty was given, Rivaldo converted and Brazil began their campaign with a crucial victory.

Now just three games from their fifth world title and facing England in the quarter-finals on Friday, the question remains whether their trusty companion will stay with them.

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