By Jayme Monsanto, Senior Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Earlier this month Brazil was placed in one of the toughest groups of the 2010 World Cup Finals, comprising as it does three strong contenders for the trophy in Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast – all with the knowledge that only two can advance to the next stage. Short of a miracle the fourth team – Korea DPR – are clear favorites to finish bottom.
What Brazil have in their favor is a footballing tradition and World Cup pedigree that is unmatched by their opponents. Brazil’s Seleção (National Team) is the only one to have taken part in each of FIFA’s World Cups since Uruguay hosted the first in 1930, and has been champion an unrivaled five times.
Now under coach Dunga who himself lifted the trophy as captain in 1994, the team has at its disposal world class players like Kaká, Robinho, Luís Fabiano, Julio César, and a host more playing for their positions with the squad as yet unconfirmed.
In the World Cup Qualifiers Brazil finished first in the CONMEBOL group despite a stop-start campaign which saw defeats to Paraguay and Bolivia, as well as some uninspired draws against the likes of Peru and Colombia.
Their first match of the Finals will be on June 15 against Korea DPR at the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg, and a convincing win expected of them. Korea’s only previous World Cup appearance was in 1966, and the team currently sits 91st in the FIFA World Ranking, while Brazil was in the top spot in the October Ranking that was used to dictate the Group Draw.
On June 20 in Johannesburg’s Ellis Park Stadium, Brazil will face The Ivory Coast, a team to be respected if not necessarily feared having qualified without a single defeat. The African nation has world class players like Didier Drogba and Solomon Kalou of Chelsea among its rank, and after their last World Cup campaign when they played as equals against title contenders Argentina and Netherlands, are certainly expected to provide some serious problems for the Brazilian defense.
Brazil’s last match of the Group Stage will be on June 25 against Portugal in the Durban Stadium. After their semi final showing last time around Portuguese expectations will be high, with Cristiano Ronaldo a huge threat despite his lackluster performance in Brazil’s 6-2 win over Portugal in a friendly last year.
If Brazil reach the knock out round their opponents will come from Group H which comprises Spain, Switzerland, Honduras and Chile, with the latter most likely to offer the opposition with Spain looking good to top the group. The European Champions wrestled top spot in the world rankings off Brazil in November, and with Fernando Torres in inspired form could certainly challenge for the title.
Even with all these tough challenges, for many football fans Brazil’s Seleçao is still the favorite for the title. World Cup fever is on a high with the groups now drawn, and over 500.000 game tickets have already been sold. On June 11 all eyes will be on South Africa’s curtain-raiser against Mexico in Johannesburg, four days before Brazil’s campaign is underway.