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Favourites out to defend crown with style


Brazil will head to Germany fully expecting to bring home a sixth world title. The South Americans boast the proud distinction of being the only nation to have participated in every World Cup, and hold the record for most victories (60) and goals scored (191). Brazil is also the only South American country to have won the World Cup on European soil, and the last nation to win consecutive tournaments.

After failing to make an impression in the first two World Cups, Brazil began to emerge as a serious candidate in 1938, finishing third and featuring the tournament's top scorer in Leonidas da Silva. They came a step closer to victory at home in 1950, losing the deciding game to Uruguay in front of an estimated 200,000 fans at the Maracana in what is described as the most tragic day in Brazilian footballing history.

Winning the World Cup had become a national obsession and Brazil finally broke through in Sweden in 1958. Led by midfield maestro Didi and 17-year-old wunderkind Pele, Brazil's squad proved simply unstoppable, crushing the hosts 5-2 in the final. Four years later in Chile, with Pele sidelined for most of the tournament, dazzling winger Garrincha made sure Brazil retained its crown, defeating Czechoslovakia 3-1 in the final.

In Mexico in 1970, Brazil capped off a golden age by claiming the title for a third time in four tries, with a squad considered by many to be the greatest ever. Playing in his final World Cup, Pele was joined by the likes of Rivelino, Tostao and Jairzinho, who became the first player on a winning side to score in every game. Brazil lifted the sport to new heights with its breathtaking displays of attacking football, beating Italy 4-1 in the final to give the Jules Rimes trophy a permanent home.

Following the triumph in Mexico, Brazil finally began to lose its magic touch. Despite still producing incredible players like Zico, Socrates and Falcao, winning a World Cup suddenly seemed beyond their grasp. The most agonizing defeat came in Spain in 1982 when a squad considered equal in talent to the fabled 1970 team suffered a shock defeat to Italy in the second round.

Indeed, Brazilians were forced to wait 24 years to celebrate another World Cup title, but the drought finally came to an end in 1994 in the United States, thanks in large part to Romario and a stifling defence. The diminutive striker carried the Brazilian squad to the final where they defeated Italy on penalty kicks after a disappointing 0-0 draw.

The victory in the United States has sparked a second era of dominance, as Brazil has also reached the final of the last two tournaments. In France in 1998, the hosts actually handed Brazil their worst ever World Cup defeat (3-0) in a game remembered for Ronaldo's mysterious illness. Redemption for both player and team came four years later in Korea/Japan, as Brazil beat Germany 2-0 with Ronaldo scoring both goals.

The gaffer

Having already led his country to a World Cup title in the United States in 1994, Carlos Alberto Parreira is seeking to join Italian Vittorio Pozza as the only men to win two World Cups. Parreira is one of two coaches in this year's competition who has already captured a World Cup, with the other being countryman Luiz Felipe Scolari (Portugal coach).

The 63-year-old has enjoyed a remarkable and unusual journey in football. Parreira never played at professional level and actually studied to become a fitness instructor. He did coach Ghana to a second-place finish at the 1968 African Nations Cup, but his next head coaching experience didn't come until 1975.

In between, he served as a physical trainer for Brazilian clubs Vasco da Gama and Fluminense, and held the same position for the national team at the 1970 World Cup and the 1972 Olympic games. In 1976, Parreira accepted an offer to become an assistant with the Kuwait national team. He assumed the position of head coach just two years later and eventually led the country to the 1982 World Cup in Spain.

The success earned him an opportunity to coach Brazil for the first time in early 1983, but the experience was short-lived as he resigned after failing to win the Copa America that same year. It wasn't long before he headed oversees once again. Parreira coached the United Arab Emirates from 1984 to 1988 and returned to lead the nation to the 1990 World Cup in Italy.

In 1991, Parreria took the reigns of the Brazilian national team for the second time and enjoyed his greatest triumph, guiding Brazil to its first World Cup title in 24 years. While the team lacked the typical flair associated with Brazilian football, it made up for it with a suffocating defence. As a result, Parreira earned the reputation back in Brazil as being very conservative in his approach, a tag he has vehemently denied ever since.

Four years later, Parreira added to his impressive resume by becoming only the second coach (Bora Milutinovic) to take four different nations to the World Cup when he guided Saudi Arabia to France 1998.

Parreira has twice tried his luck in European football, coaching Valencia (Spain) and Fenerbahce (Turkey). He also enjoyed a brief stint in the United States with the New York/New Jersey Metrostars. Parreira has also achieved success in Brazilian club football, most notably leading Fluminense to the national championship in 1984 and Corinthians to the Brazilian Cup in 2002.

This last victory prompted the Brazilian soccer federation to offer him the national team post for a third time in early 2003. Parreira has so far made the most of his latest tenure, guiding Brazil to victory in the 2004 Copa America and the 2005 Confederations Cup. He also orchestrated an impressive qualifying campaign for the 2006 World Cup, and has built a hugely entertaining squad he hopes will not only cement his legacy, but also put to rest doubts about his coaching style.

One to watch

Fresh from leading Barcelona to the Champions League crown and a second consecutive La Liga title, Ronaldinho will arrive in Germany riding an incredible wave of momentum. The reigning FIFA and European player of the year played a pivotal role in Brazil's triumph four years ago, but having since eclipsed Ronaldo as the nation's biggest star, the 26-year-old is expected to make this his World Cup.

Ronaldinho's rise began at Brazilian club Gremio, where he made his professional debut at the age of 17. After representing his country at the Under-17 and Under-20 levels, he earned a call-up to the senior national team for the 1999 Copa America. His impact was immediate.

Just moments after coming on as a substitute in Brazil's first game against Venezuela, he scored a majestic goal, flicking the ball over one defender, beating another and firing past the goalkeeper. Later that year, he top scored at the Confederations Cup, as Brazil finished runners-up to Mexico. He also spearheaded Brazil's challenge at the 2000 Olympics, where the South Americans suffered a shock defeat to Cameroon in the quarter-finals.

Not surprisingly, Ronaldinho began to attract interest from European clubs. He opted for a move to French giants Paris Saint Germain but Gremio refused to part with him, leading to a lengthy legal battle that kept him sidelined for the better part of 2001. This inactivity temporarily cost him a place on the national team, but once he finally began playing for his new team he quickly earned a recall, just in time for the 2002 World Cup.

By then, Ronaldinho had undergone a transformation from a prolific goalscorer to more of a playmaker. While he found the back of the next twice, including an improbable free kick against England in the quarter-finals, it was his vision and passing skills that captured the imagination. After returning to France for another season, he was ready for a bigger stage.

Spurning interest from Real Madrid and Manchester United, Ronaldinho headed to Barcelona in the summer of 2003, following in the recent footsteps of fellow Brazilians Romario, Ronaldo and Rivaldo. He has proven the catalyst for a remarkable turnaround that has seen the Catalan club overcome the worst crisis in their history to become the dominant force in European football.

His tantalizing skills and magnetic smile have made him the biggest star in the game. He is a crowd pleaser and match-winner rolled into one, the rare player capable of blending what Brazilians refer to as the futebol de arte (artistic soccer) with the futebol de resultados (winning soccer). His exploits in Spain have earned him comparisons to Pele and Maradona.

Curiously, though, Ronaldinho has not quite duplicated his Barcelona form at the international level the past couple of years, leading many to suggest he is shackled by Carlos Alberto Parreira's rigid tactics. With that in mind, Parreira recently announced Ronaldinho will be given total freedom this summer - bad news for Brazil's opponents, but good news for just about everyone else.

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