World Cup hosts Brazil have work cut out to win sixth title
For Brazil's football team, the pressure is on.
Next year the FIFA World Cup arrives in the South American country for only the second time, with the nation's near 200 million inhabitants expecting to celebrate a record sixth triumph in the tournament.
But all is not well in the land of "jogo bonito" -- the beautiful game.
So much so that with Brazil falling to an all-time low of 18th in the world rankings, a couple of old stagers are back to try and breathe new life into a nation that in many ways represents the very essence of international football.
Luis Felipe Scolari, the coach of Brazil's 2002 World Cup winners, has been drafted in to replace Mano Manezes. And one of Scolari's first actions was to recall a hero of the triumphant campaign in Japan and South Korea 11 years ago.
Against England in Wednesday's Wembley friendly, Ronaldinho, a two-time World Player of the Year, was back in the famous gold shirt for the first time in over a year as he looked to enhance his chances of making the squad for 2014.
But the plan failed. Scolari, Ronaldinho and co. slipped to a 2-1 defeat, with England playing more of the slick, attacking football Brazil has made its trademark.
For Ronaldinho, now plying his trade with Atletico Miniero in his homeland after dazzling for Barcelona between 2003 and 2008, it was a miserable evening.
Off the ball, his laid back, border-line lazy approach was as recognizable as the beaming grim beneath his abundant curly locks.
But in possession, the bursts of acceleration which helped him become the world's most feared player during his halcyon days with Barca were less apparent.
His killer instinct in front of goal also seemed to have deserted him.
When his 19th-minute penalty was saved by England goalkeeper Joe Hart, suspicions grew that the 87,000 plus spectators inside the stadium were watching a ghost.
After 45 minutes Scolari had also seen enough and Ronaldinho did not emerge for the second half.
"He's very important, he's a 'craque'," Brazil and Chelsea midfielder Ramires said after the game, using a term which refers to a technically gifted player.
"We all know about his great quality ... we all know how important he is and we just hope he's OK physically," added Ramires.
Despite a low key performance which saw Ronaldinho out ran and out thought by England's midfield trio of Jack Wilshere, Tom Cleverley and Steven Gerrard, Brazil captain David Luiz also hailed the qualities of the 32-year-old.
"It's a privilege to play with him," said the Chelsea defender. "No doubt about it. Not only for his football, but also for the person he is.
"You saw when Ronaldinho came on the screen, everyone was raving and that just shows how big he is in world football."
As well as past stars like Ronaldinho, it was also a tough test for the emerging crop of Brazilian superstars.
Oscar, the third of Chelsea's Brazilian trio, Paris-Saint Germain's Lucas Moura and playmaker Paulinho of Club World Cup winners Corinthians all struggled to live up to their lofty billing.
But most worrying of all was the performance of Neymar.
If Ronaldinho is yesterday's hero, the Santos schemer has long had the billing of today's A Selecao shining star.
Yet the Mohican-clad attacker was subdued throughout - as he had been in Brazil's Olympic final defeat by Mexico in August at Wembley -- struggling to shake off the stubborn defensive work of England right back Glen Johnson.
So if Brazil are to lift the World Cup next year, the player widely regarded as the third best in the world behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will have to lift his game considerably.
"It did not go as I had expected or wanted," the 21-year-old Neymar told reporters. "I would have liked to help the team more, but today was not my day. Next time."
Wednesday's defeat might stir memories of the last time Brazil hosted the World Cup in 1950.
Needing just a draw to be crowned world champions in the final game of the tournament, Brazil lost 2-1 to Uruguay and missed out on a first World Cup triumph -- an event referred to by playwright Nelson Rodrigues as "our Hiroshima".
That loss scarred Brazilian society -- a similar failure next year is unimaginable.
"Our chances of winning the World Cup are big," said Brazil's Bayern Munich defender Dante. "That's our mentality, that's what we are focused on. In our heads we can't go there and think if we finish second or third that's enough.
"The fans will be very important. You can expect every game to be 60,000, 70,000 people together with us, and we are going to use their emotion to make us stronger on the pitch.
"We have great players who are used to pressure and our motivation is really high."
Ramires was is similarly defiant mood.
"We are going to be ready," said Chelsea midfielder. "We are going in to win the World Cup."