Full-strength Brazil to play World Cup qualifiers

Already qualified for next year's World Cup, Brazil had a rare opportunity to try out new players and tinker with tactics in its final two Cup qualifiers.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:48 IST
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Already qualified for next year's World Cup, Brazil had a rare opportunity to try out new players and tinker with tactics in its final two Cup qualifiers next month. But there were no surprises in the list of 26 players announced on Wednesday for Brazil's upcoming games against Bolivia and Venezuela. Star-studded linbeup Led by Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Adriano and Robinho, Brazil will be at maximum strength when it faces Bolivia in La Paz on Oct. 9, and closes the South American qualifying round against Venezuela on Oct. 12 in the Amazon city of Belem. Returning to the squad are Fenerbahce midfielder Alex and Hertha Berlin winger Gilberto, as well as PSV goalie Gomes. But the three are second-stringers, and none is expected to contend for a starting spot. By clinching a berth at the 2006 Cup in Germany, Brazil avoided the anguish of the 2002 Cup qualifiers, when the team didn't seal a spot until its final qualifier against Venezuela. In second place Brazil is in second place in South America with 30 points, one behind leader Argentina. The top four qualify for the Cup, and the fifth-place team plays Australia for a spot. Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira's predicament is finding room for an excess of talent – a problem other coaches would love. He already has guaranteed a starting berth for AC Milan's Kaka and FC Barcelona's Ronaldinho, voted international player of the year by his fellow pros and named FIFA player of the year in 2004. That leaves two starting spots up for grabs among strikers Adriano, the "emperor'' of Inter Milan, Real Madrid's rising star Robinho, and his teammate Ronaldo, the hero of Brazil's 2002 Cup champions and a three-time FIFA player of the year. It's a tough choice, and some Brazilians say Parreira should field them all. They recall the 1970 World Cup champions, when Pele, Tostao, Rivelino and Jairzinho were improvised out of their regular positions and won the title, with a squad often cited as Brazil's best ever. No extra striker But Parreira says he won't field an extra striker and risk leaving the defense exposed. "We don't have to define anything nine months before the Cup," he said in a televised interview. "But I imagine that, with Kaka on the right and Ronaldinho on the left, we'll have Ronaldo, Adriano and Robinho to determine who completes the square." His concern is on defense, where aging wingers Cafu and Roberto Carlos don't have the vigor or endurance of past years, and replacements are slowly being tested. Juan, Lucio and Roque Junior are the core of the defensive line. Parreira's job is to combat overconfidence and keep Brazil's eye on the prize. "Even a dream team can lose the World Cup," Parreira said. "Brazil lost six qualifying games in 2002, went there and was champion. That's where you have to win. If you lose your last four games, you go back home.'' (AP)