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   31 May, 2002 | 1645 IST



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Brazil unruffled by dark horses tag

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Brian Homewood

Four times champions Brazil say they are unruffled about playing the unfamiliar role of dark horses in the run-up to the World Cup.

Traditionally considered hot favourites to win the title, Brazil are this time playing second fiddle to arch-rivals Argentina and defending champions France who beat them in the final four years ago.

An unprecedented run of defeats in the past year against modest opponents such as Australia, Paraguay, Ecuador, Honduras, Bolivia and Chile, combined with Congressional investigation into the affairs of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), has dented Brazil's prestige.

The Brazil team in trainingBut, with the worst apparently behind them, the players say they are not bothered if the football world is talking about other teams and warn they are out to prove the pundits wrong.

Real Madrid's Roberto Carlos believes that being considered favourites is a big headache.

"Being favourite in a World Cup just brings all sorts of problems," he said. "But when you talk about who is going to be champion, Brazil is always mentioned. It doesn't worry us."

"If you start as favourites, the marking is tighter and the difficulties are even greater. Sincerely, I think Brazil are among the four (favourites), we'll certainly get to the semi-finals. I also include Italy, Argentina and England," he said.

Diminutive midfielder Juninho was bolder.


"Brazil are always a favourite. People are saying that we're not but deep down I think they know that we are and everybody wants to beat Brazil," he said. "Brazil are always favourites, whatever competition we enter."

Ask if he agreed that Argentina were more likely champions, Juninho replied: "I don't think so. They are one of the favourites, alongside Brazil.

"It's better to do the talking at the end, not at the start. (In 1994), people talked a lot about Colombia and they went out in the first round. We have to talk about the team at the end (of the competition)."

Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has rescued Brazil from the doldrums since taking over last year, avoiding the ultimate disaster, which would have been failure to qualify for the finals.

Brazil are unbeaten in their last seven matches and, after using around 60 players and four coaches in their 18-match qualifying campaign, are at last looking more like a settled team.

However, the off-the-field chaos, which led to a two-pronged Congressional inquiry into the CBF last year, continues back in Brazil, with a plethora of confusing competitions and a continuing exodus of top players abroad.


CBF president Ricardo Teixeira, a member of FIFA's executive committee, has clung on to his post despite the inquiry producing a devastating report.

Teixeira was accused of using the CBF's money to fund political funds, living in luxury at the organisation's expense and leaving the confederation's finances in ruins.

"For the first time, in many cups, the Brazilian team is not among the favourites," wrote veteran commentator Armando Nogueira.

"In Asia, as in Europe, people are talking about France, Argentina and Italy: they are even talking about England, who arrived in Japan with the worry about the injury to their top player."

"(Football) is a matter which has become an embarrassment. The whole world knows that Brazilian football has turned into dubious business concern.

"Brazil's lack of prestige is not just a result of their miserable campaign in the qualifiers. The wear and tear on our football is, in the main, moral.

On the pitch, however, the players believe they are peaking at the right time and aim to forget, temporarily at least, the boardroom chaos.

"It's very difficult to say who is a favourite at the World Cup and who isn't, you often find the favourites getting knocked out early on," defender Edmilson said. "I think this World Cup will have many surprises."

"Even if people we don't think we are favourites, we are always a force to be reckoned with at the World Cup and it won't be different this year."

"We have gone through very difficult times, now we are much stronger."

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