BRASILIA – With the words of Pele ringing in its ears that it is “not good enough” to win the tournament, Brazil opens the Confederations Cup on Saturday with an appetizing encounter in the capital against Asian champion Japan.
With Italy and Mexico, which embarrassed the Selecao in the Olympic final last summer, to come in a tough group, the Brazilians can’t afford to slip up under their 2002 World Cup-winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari as they lay the foundations for next year’s World Cup on home soil.
Scolari has insisted since returning to the fold last November, ironically a matter of days after predecessor Mano Manezes’ Brazil side spanked the Japanese 4-0 in a friendly in Poland, that the Confederations Cup is a sideshow and that he cannot deliver a second dose of alchemy overnight.
Complaining Friday that the Brazilian media and fans are always quick to be critical, Scolari said Japan had to be respected not just as four-time Asian Cup champions but as the first side to have booked a berth in the World Cup after a June 4 draw with Australia ahead of travelling to Brazil.
“I would not be embarrassed to lose to Japan. We will play our football and play to win but if Japan did not have qualities they would not be here,” Scolari insisted to reporters in Brasilia.
Brazil star Neymar also says the hosts will not take the Japanese, coached by hugely experienced Italian Alberto Zaccheroni, lightly.
“Japan are a tricky proposition and not to be underestimated. Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa are superb players and the team as a whole mark you very tightly,” said Barcelona-bound Neymar.
Scolari said he will put out the team which beat France 3-0 in Porto Alegre last weekend which means another chance for in-form striker Fred to shine after the 29-year-old netted five goals in his last six internationals — including two against England in friendly tussles.
Zaccheroni, who expects Honda to recover from his thigh problem, says the Japanese are not yet at Brazil’s level but the Italian believes they are heading in the right direction.
“I expect them to give their all, show no fear and take the initiative and show that we may not be the best team in the world but we do know how to play,” Zaccheroni said.
“I am not sitting here thinking we are here to win but all athletes always try to aim higher, to improve. So we will give it our best shot while having great respect for Brazil’s many qualities and experience.
“When Brazil wins, it’s normal, but if they don’t, they get criticized,” added Zaccheroni, hours after Pele had remarked that Brazil does not have “enough in their armory to win the Confederations Cup” while urging Scolari to use the event as a means of preparing the terrain for next summer.
This year’s tournament is the first major event hosted by Brazil since the 1989 Confederations Cup and the logistical challenge has been a tough one, raising concerns about whether the winners of the last two editions can produce 12 top-notch venues by next year for the World Cup.
If the Selecao win Group A, they will then travel to Belo Horizonte for a June 26 semifinal against either reigning South American champion Uruguay or African champion Nigeria, assuming world champion Spain claims Group B.
Should Scolari’s men only take second place in the pool phase they would face a likely Spanish test in Fortaleza on June 27.
The opening match at the Estadio Nacional affords residents of the capital a rare chance to watch first-class soccer as the city currently lacks a top-flight team.
But the atmosphere has been soured by protests from groups supporting the homeless and disaffected health workers angry at the amount of money being spent on the Confederations Cup and the World Cup.
Wigan brings in Coyle
Owen Coyle has been hired to replace Roberto Martinez as manager of Wigan, eight months after Coyle was fired by Bolton.
Wigan won the F.A. Cup last season but was relegated from the English Premier League after finishing 18th at 9-20-9. Martinez left to become manager of Everton after David Moyes quit to replace Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.
Coyle guided Burnley to promotion in 2009, then moved to Bolton in January 2010.