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Brazil ready to play for World Cup title at home Crowd can be hosts’ biggest weapon

SAO PAULO, April 8, (AP): On the field, Brazil are ready for the World Cup. While organizers race against the clock to get the country ready to host the tournament, the national team is counting the days until the June 12 opener against Croatia. “We have the confidence to say that we can win this World Cup,” Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said. “We have some of the best players in the world, and when we can be tactically balanced, no one is better than us.” Brazil doesn’t have a team filled with stars this time, but the experienced Scolari has put together a squad that mixes talent and competitiveness. Led by youngsters Neymar and Oscar, and boosted by a convincing victory at last year’s Confederations Cup, Brazil is a clear favorite to win a sixth world title. Brazil have won 13 of their last 14 matches, including a 3-0 victory over world champion Spain in the Confederations Cup final.

“We can play against any team in the world,” said Scolari, who led Brazil to the 2002 World Cup title. This time, the home crowd can be Brazil’s biggest weapon. There were doubts about what kind of support Brazil would get from its usually tough fans during the Confederations Cup, but they threw themselves behind the team. Players said the support was key. Brazil’s starting 11 in the World Cup will likely be the same that won the warm-up tournament last year, with 22-year-old Barcelona striker Neymar carrying most of the fans’ hopes. The defense will have Thiago Silva alongside David Luiz. Veteran right back Maicon will likely be Daniel Alves’ reserve, while Marcelo is set to play on the left. Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo will protect the defense, and Oscar will feed the attack, which will also have Hulk and Fred.

The weakest link may be in goal, where Scolari has had few options to pick from. He has already said his starter will be Julio Cesar, who struggled with Queens Park Rangers in England before being loaned to Toronto FC in Major League Soccer after failing to find another club in Europe. His mistake played a role in Brazil’s loss to the Netherlands in 2010 quarterfinals. Brazil also was eliminated in the quarterfinals in 2006 in Germany, losing to France. This time, Brazil were drawn into a relatively easy Group A along with Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon, although in the second round it may have to face either Spain or the Netherlands. The last time Brazil hosted a World Cup was in 1950, when they lost to Uruguay 2-1 in the final match of the tournament at the Maracana. It was a devastating result, and one that Scolari wants to use as motivation.

“That group did something that no one else had done, which was to reach a final, it was fantastic,” Scolari said. “Hopefully this time we can be in another final at the Maracana, remembering 1950, which was wonderful.” Forget about the pressure and responsibility of having to win the World Cup at home. To Luiz Felipe Scolari, coaching Brazil in Brazil is the perfect job. Scolari knows that anything but the World Cup title will be considered a failure, but he could never pass up on the chance of lifting football’s most coveted trophy in front of the home crowd at the Maracana. How much did he want it? The president of the Brazilian football confederation said it took about 10 seconds for Scolari to accept his offer. “Some say that I’m a populist, but we are playing at home, we have the fans on our side and a team which is competitive and has a lot of quality,” the outspoken Scolari said. “We have everything that allows us to be the best team. That’s why I fully trust that we can make it to the final and be the champion.”

Already a World Cup-winning coach, Scolari said he was not nearly as confident before the 2002 tournament, when Brazil won its fifth title. “Now I’m playing in Brazil, in front of my people, I have the 12th player (fans) on my side,” said Scolari, voted among the top 10 coaches of 2013. “If I can’t say that we are good, that we have a lot of quality and that we have good players, then there’s nothing I should be doing here.” It was thanks to the 2002 World Cup title that Scolari became internationally recognized. But his career hit highs and lows after that. He thrived with Portugal at the 2004 European Championship and the 2006 World Cup, then failed at the club level with Chelsea and Brazilian club Palmeiras. When it became clear that former Brazil coach Mano Menezes was not doing enough to gain the support of the country’s tough fans, federation president Jose Maria Marin didn’t think twice before bringing back the popular Scolari in late 2012.

“We needed to shake up the national team, the World Cup is a completely different tournament,” Marin told TV Bandeirantes. This will likely be Scolari’s last World Cup. Although the 65-year-old coach hasn’t made any official announcement, he has said in the past that his goal was to coach in Brazil and then retire. He knows the only way he can leave on a high note is by winning at home. “I wouldn’t accept to coach Brazil if I didn’t think I could win the World Cup,” Scolari said. “I took the job because I’m 100 percent sure that I will win the World Cup with Brazil.”

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