JOHANNESBURG, May 27 – Brazil arrived in Johannesburg Thursday to embark on a journey they hope will take them to a record sixth World Cup title.
Usually hot pre-tournament favourites wherever the quadrennial international football showcase is staged, Brazil have been downgraded by many bookmakers to second spot behind European champions Spain.
A crisp, clear dawn in the South African economic hub greeted the South Americans, who flew from Brasilia having been given an official send-off by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Landing 12 hours after the Australian ‘Socceroos’ became the first qualifiers to reach South Africa, Brazil followed the same procedure of restricted assess to select TV crews and photographers and no interviews.
The 23-man squad, coaches and officials boarded a brightly coloured luxury coach for a journey to a hotel in a northern suburb golf course and the five-time world champions plan to train at a nearby school.
Brazil are with 2006 semi-finalists Portugal, Didier Drogba-led Ivory Coast and tournament outsiders North Korea in Group G, labelled the ‘Group of Death’ after the Cape Town draw last December because of its strength.
And should a Brazilian squad boasting stars like Julio Cesar, Maicon, Kaka and Luis Fabiano match expectations and top the mini-league table, they could face fellow South American qualifiers Chile in the knockout second round.
The South Americans are no strangers to Johannesburg having won the World Cup dress-rehearsal Confederations Cup tournament there last June after wiping out a two-goal deficit against surprise finalists United States.
Coach Dunga, captain and midfield ‘enforcer’ in the 1994 World Cup-winning team, must hope he can banish the hoodoo that envelopes Confederations Cup title holders in the subsequent World Cup.
The curse has struck Brazil twice as they finished 1998 World Cup runners-up to Zinedine Zidane-inspired hosts France, and fell to ‘Les Bleus’ again four years ago, this time in the quarter-finals.
No country is more passionate about football than Brazil and banks have been cleared to close when the national team faces North Korea on June 15, Ivory Coast five days later and Portugal a further five days into the tournament.
Dunga was handed one of the most stressful posts in football four years ago despite no managerial experience after Carlos Alberto Parreira paid the price for the last-eight exit.
He will be under intense scrutiny in South Africa, not least for refusing to include 2002 World Cup winner Ronaldinho in his squad after the AC Milan midfielder showed a revival in form.
Adriano, Alexandre Pato, Neymar and Paulo Ganso were other controversial omissions and knives will glisten in the South African sun if Brazil do not clutch the World Cup trophy and the 30-million-dollar cheque.
The first World Cup hosted by Africa kicks off on June 11 at the 90,000-seat Soccer City near the black township of Soweto with Parreira-coached South Africa facing Mexico and finishes with the July 11 final at the same venue.