To get you ready for the drama that will start unfolding on June 11 in South Africa, The Star and The Full 90 will introduce you to the teams, the key performers, what to look for and what to expect in this year's Cup.For the last team in the Group of Very Difficult, we turn to the world's greatest team.
BrazilGroup G THE BASICS
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Seleção (The Selection)
Gold and Blue
•How They Got Here:
Somewhat unusually, Brazil won South American qualifying despite almost drawing (7) as many games as they won (9).
•World Cup Pedigree:
18 World Cups ('30, '34, '38, '50, '54, '58, '62, '66, '70, '74, '78, '82, '86, '90, '94, '98, '02, '06), 5-time winners, qualified for at least the knockout stage in 10-straight World CupsTHE PLOT
Can a defensive-minded coach who plays by his own rules guide a darker, tougher and more physical Brazil back to the championship game? And, if they make it to the finals and don't win pretty, will the world ever forgive them? And, will Ronaldinho ever set foot on a pitch in a Brazil uniform ever again? (Let's save that last question for the sequel at least.)THE DIRECTOR
The former hard-man for Brazil has tossed aside the Samba flair that Brazil expects of its team for a more defensive-minded team that will spend more time counter-attacking than performing step-overs. He's a divisive figure in Brazil, to say the least. If he wins, he'll be canonized. If he loses, he may not be allowed back into Rio.LEADING MAN
Was overshadowed at Real Madrid this year by Cristiano Ronaldo. But, in all fairness, C-ron is a much flashier player than Kaka. This is anathema to Brazilians. They are supposed to have the flashiest player on the field. Kaka isn't flashy in that regard. He's more of a solid playmaker (think maybe a more technically gifted Steven Gerrard). But there's no denying that the midfielder is the best overall talent Brazil has and as he goes, so will Brazil's attack.SUPPORTING CAST
(forward, Sevilla) is a deadly striker but won't remind people of Ronaldo (though, given what's happened to Ronaldo of late, maybe this isn't such a bad thing for Fabiano);Robinho
(forward, Santos - on loan from Manchester City) is the definition of "temperamental" and often drifts in and out of play;Felipe Melo
(midfielder, Juventus) had a subpar year in Italy, but is still one of the finest defensive midfielders in the world;Lucio
(defender, Inter Milan) is a monster and will not grant many strikers any quarter in the 18-yard box;Maicon
(right back, Inter Milan) andDani Alves
(right back, Barcelona) are the world's No. 1 and No. 2 fullbacks ... or more clearly, the world's No. 1 and No. 2 right fullbacks -- finding a spot for both of them will be difficult;Julio Ceasar
(goalkeeper, Inter Milan) is easily one of the best keepers in the world and will need to bounce back from an injury he took in the warmups.LIKELY BREAKOUT STAR
It's probably difficult to call the starting fullback on a Champions League-winning squad under-rated, but Maicon might be just that. He's incredibly fast and technically gifted. Unlike his compatriot, Dani Alves, he's also a solid defender. The way the modern game has developed, the most successful teams have the best fullbacks.THE LIKELY VILLAIN
Dunga PRODUCTION NOTES
This might be a, gasp, counter-attacking team. Dunga might even play, double gasp, two DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDERS! Back in the day, Brazil played a 4-2-2-2 and used fullback play and speed to exploit teams. But, as the United States showed in the first half of the Confederations Cup final, there are holes in that formation. Expect Dunga to opt for the more traditional European 4-2-3-1 with Kaka the central play maker.WHAT THEY'LL WEAR
IT'S SORTA LIKE...
The Dark Knight
The previous incarnations of Brazil were the light-hearted, beauty-before-brawn types. But they were also superheros. The kind of players that kids dreamt of being when they grew up. That's not the case this time. In 2010, Brazil have ditched the flash in favor of brawn and strength. They used to be Super-man, now they're Batman. And you know what, personally, I think Batman is far more interesting anyway.TRAILER
DO WHAT YOU WILL WITH THIS...
Brazil has far more Catholics than any other nation on Earth. Which explains the samba dancing and carnival, right?CRITICAL BLURBS
Brazilians expect this team to do well, but there's also a strong underlying suspicion that the team won't "look beautiful" while they're doing it. I say, whatever wins wins. If that means more physical play, less fancy one-on-one dribbles, then deal with it. ... Having said that, I'm fairly certain that this team (even without Ronaldinho) are amongst the most technically skilled teams in the world. ... I love watching Brazil play and have absolutely no problem rooting for the Yankees of international soccer. ... The only game that should give them a real problem in the group stage is Portugal, I think the Ivory Coast is too overmatched without Didier Drogba. ... Kaka will be brilliant, Robinho will be subpar. ...Best-case scenario?
Winning it all. ...Realistic prediction?
Reaching the finals, but losing a great match to Spain.POSSIBLE HOLLYWOOD MOMENT
This team will make the finals. And they'll probably get through most of their games in less-than-beautiful fashion. But, when Spain comes out and shows Brazil how to play their own game (short, pretty, tricky passing) and take a 2-0 lead in the first half, Dunga goes into the locker room and unleashes the inner-samba on his team. The second 45 minutes are filled with spectacular technical soccer, with Brazil getting back into the game with 2 gorgeous multi-touch goals. In true Hollywood fashion though, I think this will come up short, with Spain having a slight edge defensively and squeaking out a 3-2 game. (And this would be the greatest game in modern Cup history.)
Group A: South Africa
Group B: South Korea
Group C: Algeria
Group D: Serbia
Group E: Japan
Group F: New Zealand
Group G: North Korea
Honduras, Chile, Switzerland, Spain
Sources: World Cup 2010 (by Steven D. Stark and Harrison Stark); ESPN and Soccernet.com; FIFA; CIA Factbook