Brazil ready to play for World Cup title at home
SAO PAULO (AP) On the field, Brazil is ready for the World Cup.
While organizers race against the clock to get the country ready to host the tournament, the national team is counting the days until the June 12 opener against Croatia.
''We have the confidence to say that we can win this World Cup,'' Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said. ''We have some of the best players in the world, and when we can be tactically balanced, no one is better than us.''
Brazil doesn't have a team filled with stars this time, but the experienced Scolari has put together a squad that mixes talent and competitiveness. Led by youngsters Neymar and Oscar, and boosted by a convincing victory at last year's Confederations Cup, Brazil is a clear favorite to win a sixth world title.
Brazil has won 13 of its last 14 matches, including a 3-0 victory over world champion Spain in the Confederations Cup final.
''We can play against any team in the world,'' said Scolari, who led Brazil to the 2002 World Cup title.
This time, the home crowd can be Brazil's biggest weapon.
There were doubts about what kind of support Brazil would get from its usually tough fans during the Confederations Cup, but they threw themselves behind the team. Players said the support was key.
Scolari picked 16 players who were in the Confederations Cup last year, and Brazil's starting 11 in the World Cup will likely be the same that won the warm-up tournament, with 22-year-old Barcelona striker Neymar carrying most of the fans' hopes.
The defense will have Thiago Silva alongside David Luiz. Veteran right back Maicon will likely be Daniel Alves' reserve, while Marcelo is set to play on the left. Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo will protect the defense, and Oscar will feed the attack, which will also have Hulk and Fred.
The weakest link may be in goal, where Scolari has had few options to pick from. He has already said his starter will be Julio Cesar, who struggled with Queens Park Rangers in England before being loaned to Toronto FC in Major League Soccer after failing to find another club in Europe.
His mistake played a role in Brazil's loss to the Netherlands in 2010 quarterfinals. Brazil also was eliminated in the quarterfinals in 2006 in Germany, losing to France.
This time, Brazil was drawn into a relatively easy Group A along with Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon, although in the second round it may have to face either Spain or the Netherlands.
The last time Brazil hosted a World Cup was in 1950, when it lost to Uruguay 2-1 in the final match of the tournament at the Maracana. It was a devastating result, and one that Scolari wants to use as motivation.
''That group did something that no one else had done, which was to reach a final, it was fantastic,'' Scolari said. ''Hopefully this time we can be in another final at the Maracana, remembering 1950, which was wonderful.''
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