World Champions Brazil will be looking to find their rhythm and eliminate a Japan team coached by one of Brazilian football’s greatest ever players this evening in Dortmund, as Group F of the 2006 FIFA World Cup reaches its climax..
Japan coach Zico scored 66 goals in 88 matches for Brazil and appeared for the Selecao in the 1978, 1982 and 1986 World Cups. Current Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira will be putting any respect for his counterpart to one side this evening as his team attempts to silence its critics and display some of the verve and flair that many of their players have become synonymous with.
Brazil’s national media and their international colleagues have been highly critical of their performances in the 1-0 victory over Croatia and the 2-0 win over Australia in their opening matches. Doubts have surrounded the form of star striker Ronaldo, who many have claimed has looked overweight and short of interest in his team’s opening contests. The Real Madrid striker has been undergoing extra training sessions in the last week, in a last gasp bid to improve his fitness and repay the faith shown in him by his coach.
“I am very upbeat ahead of this match,” the under pressure striker claimed on Tuesday.
“I feel very good physically and I know I’ll play better against Japan. I haven’t scored in two matches but I hope to in this one. I have been working very hard to recover my sharpness and repay the coach and the fans.”
Ronaldo needs only three goals to become the top scorer in the history of the World Cup Finals and only one goal to overtake Pele’s Brazilian record of twelve, which he equalled with his second goal in the 2002 World Cup Final against Germany.
Arsenal midfielder Gilberto Silva, who may get a start tonight if Parreira rests the first-choice Emerson due to him being on a yellow card, spoke out in defence of his Brazilian teammates on Monday as he looked ahead to the clash with Japan. He spoke of the weight of expectation that always falls on the shoulders of the Brazilian national team at the World Cup, but claimed that the 2006 version was ready to improve and show their best form.
“When we win, as we have done in our first two games, people criticise and say that we did not play well,” he said.
“And then, if we do play well, people still want more because we are Brazil. Everyone wants us to score lots of goals in every match. Football is not as simple as that but we have done well. Brazil can never relax, even though we are through to the next round. If we relax we know what the consequences will be. A lot of people expect a lot from us but we are all used to it.”
Parreira may make some changes to his starting eleven this evening, but has made plenty of strong indications that Ronaldo will be given another chance. As a result Robinho may come in for Internazionale striker Adriano, despite Adriano’s goal against Australia. Lyon playmaker Juninho Pernambucano may also get a rare start, possibly at the expense of Kaka, who may be rested after his exertions in the first two games. Emerson, Ronaldo, Robinho and captain Cafu are all one yellow card away from suspension for Brazil, who have now kept four consecutive clean sheets at the finals, one match shy of Italy’s record.
Even a shock win for Japan this evening may not be enough to ensure their passage into the second round, but Zico is confident that his team can play without fear and provide the finals with a night to remember in Dortmund this evening. Japan have never beaten Brazil, but Zico will be reminding his squad that have yet to be defeated by their illustrious opponents in two competitive games. In two meetings at the Confederations Cup, in 2001 and 2005, Japan earned draws with the Selecao.
“We have to be optimistic. We are not confronting an awful monster, they are human beings like we are,” he said.
“They are a strong team but as professionals representing Japan we must never give up. We have played them before, and I don’t think they particularly frighten us. We have to work out a way to beat them. In France in 1998 they lost their final group match because they let up after ensuring qualification. We are hoping the same thing happens tonight.”
The Japanese media was particularly critical of their team after their opening capitulation against Australia. Japan seemed to be in control of the match but, after leading 1-0, they conceded three goals in the last seven minutes to suffer a frustrating and humiliating 3-1 reverse. It was the first time in the history of the World Cup Finals that a team had conceded three goals so late in the game.
Tsuneyasu Miyamoto received yellow card in each of Japan’s first two matches, and as a result the centre-half will miss the game through suspension. Keisuke Tsuboi is the likely replacement and will line up next to the experienced Yuji Nakasawa in a new-look pairing. Other changes are likely to be up front as Zico seeks the correct formula to improve his team’s fortunes in front of goal. The places of Naohiro Takahara and Atsushi Yanagisawa are under threat. The former is the most likely to lose his place and he could be replaced by Keiji Tamada. Tamada was first choice until last summer and his patience and work ethic may be rewarded with a return to the starting line-up for this most high profile of matches.
By Mark Robinson
Brazil: Dida; Cafu, Lucio, Juan, Roberto Carlos; Ze Roberto, Gilberto Silva; Juninho Pernambucano, Ronaldinho; Ronaldo, Robinho
Japan: Kawaguchi; Kaji, Nakazawa, Tsuboi, Alex; Ogasawara, Nakata, Inamoto, Nakamura; Yanagisawa, Tamada
Referee:: Eric Poulat (France)