Defiant Big Phil leaves out Romario
Veteran Brazilian striker Romario's dream of a World Cup swansong ended on Monday when coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, defying public opinion, left him out of his squad for the finals in Japan and South Korea.
Scolari, who was harassed in the centre of Rio de Janeiro by angry fans on Friday because of his refusal to pick Romario, said the decision remains final and added that he had no fears for his own safety.
The charismatic Romario, who led Brazil to their 1994 World Cup triumph, remains one of the world's most deadly penalty-area specialists at the age of 36 and his exclusion from the team has been deeply unpopular.
Scolari, who also omitted midfielder Djalminha after last week's incident in which the player head-butted his club coach at Deportivo Coruna, has not picked Romario since last July's 1-0 defeat by Uruguay.
He has cited technical and tactical reasons, although many believe a possible act of indiscipline in Montevideo might have been the cause.
"I just want to say that I picked these players because I think they're right for this job -- nobody will make me change my mind," said the man known as Big Phil, whose team face Turkey, Costa Rica and China in group C.
"I'm sorry for those athletes who have been left out but I can only pick 23. Win or lose it's my choice -- I prefer to be the scapegoat and do it my way than do it someone else's way."
Scolari dismissed Friday's incident, in which he was insulted, pushed and shoved by an angry mob of around 50 fans as he walked a short distance from the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) headquarters to a waiting car.
"There wasn't any physical violence," Scolari added. "I understand the supporters but I make the decisions which I think are in the best interests of the team."
He also brushed aside suggestions of hiring bodyguards.
"I don't have protection when I go to the bank, when I take my family out and everybody knows where I live and which places I go to," he said.
Scolari, who took over eleven months ago with Brazil in danger of failing to qualify, said he was aware that anything less than a fifth world title would be dubbed a failure -- with or without Romario.
"If I don't win, I'm dead meat in any case," he said.
"My duty is to win. We don't have a second-place culture in this country.
"My own son said to me recently: second place is just the first of the last places. We had an excellent Cup in 1998 but the lasting impression was negative because we lost the final to France."
The episode is the latest twist in Romario's love-hate relationship with the World Cup.
Although he won the title and scored five goals in 1994, he has bitter memories of the 1990 and 1998 tournaments.
He played only one match in the latter, which took place shortly after he had broken his leg, and was axed on the eve of France '98 in tears with a niggling calf muscle injury.
Romario, who has averaged a goal a game in club football this year, had made no secret of his hopes for a third World Cup, but not even a tearful outpouring last month could persuade Scolari to change his mind.
Scolari said that last week's incident in Spain, when Djalminha head-butted Deportivo coach Javier Irureta, helped him decide in favour of Sao Paulo's 19-year-midfielder Kaka.
Barcelona's Rivaldo was included despite recent injury problems and a reputation for failing to produce his best at international level.
Scolari's list produced no other major surprises although Bayern Munich striker Elber, Sporting Lisbon's Mario Jardel and Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Ze Roberto -- who were all left out -- would probably figure in the squad of almost any other national team.
The squad included seven survivors from 1998, when Brazil finished runners-up, and two from 1994.
Goalkeeper Dida, full-backs Cafu and Roberto Carlos, midfielders Emerson Ferreira and forwards Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Denilson were all at France '98.
In a possible sign of the times, only one of the 23 players is from a Rio de Janeiro-based club, whose Maracana stadium is the spiritual home of the Brazilian game.