The boys from Brazil dancing to a new beat
BRAZIL, ranked an absurd 18th in the world by FIFA, begin the long march back to the summit of the beautiful game at Wembley tonight.
Returning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has assembled an eclectic bag of tricks for his first game back in charge.
Ronaldinho has been resurrected more than a year into what he thought was international retirement to steer the Selecao towards the goal of World Cup glory on home soil alongside the nation's new great hope, Neymar.
It is incumbent on Brazil to produce a talent beyond the imagination, to deliver a player who merits the label 'best in the world'.
At 32, Ronaldinho long ago ceded that mantle to Lionel Messi, but in Neymar, who just turned 21, he sees a player capable of breasting that tape.
"Neymar has time to do whatever he wants in football," Ronaldinho said. "He is the idol in Brazil, our best player. The difference is that, at his age, I was already in Europe but he can continue in Brazil."
There was a cake and a hug for the freshly-minted key holder, surely the first global superstar to turn 21 on the playing fields of Barnet, where Brazil prepared for tonight's gala game.
Despite his tender years and delayed departure for Europe, Neymar's YouTube catalogue has kept the world well briefed on his progress.
An enhanced TV deal in Brazil has enabled Santos to hold on to their biggest asset, despite covetous glances from the usual suspects in Europe.
It is said he is bound for Barcelona, a deft accoutrement to the genius of Messi. Ronaldinho, an old Nou Camp doyen himself, is happy to indulge that idea.
"Of course I imagine that he (Messi) and Neymar can play together. They are among the best players in the world. It would be wonderful to watch them."
Neymar is flattered by the acclaim, though denies any association with Barca. "It is nice when I hear top players say I will be the best player in the world. It is important to stay humble, but I have to believe that I can be the best in the world. I know I have the talent to be, I just need to carry on working hard.
"I am happy at Santos and am not even thinking about leaving. When the time comes I will consider all offers from big clubs in Europe. But any talk that I have already committed to a club is not true."
Neymar was less complimentary about Brazil's hosts tonight. England, he believes, rely too much on their own talisman.
"England are a good team with very good players but I don't look at them as one of our main rivals for the World Cup," he said.
"They have the players to do well but do I think they have the same quality as Spain and Argentina? No. I think maybe they rely on Wayne Rooney.
"In Brazil we have many players who can win the game. The same with Argentina. If Messi is not having a great game, they still have (Sergio) Aguero and (Carlos) Tevez. With Spain, if (Andres) Iniesta is having a bad game, they have Xavi and (David) Villa. Once you look past Rooney you don't see an obvious player who can win a game for England."
Fantasy comes as standard with Brazil yet, officially at least, this is the worst Brazilian team since the introduction of rankings 18 years ago. For 12 years, Brazil were ranked No 1.
Ronaldinho last delivered any kind of authority at a major international tournament in 2006. He did not feature in the 2010 World Cup and thought his time was past until Scolari was re-appointed in November.
His selection tonight is, therefore, at least as interesting as Neymar's following a highly acclaimed return to domestic football with Atletico Mineiro.
"I don't see age as a problem, it is a positive factor. We all know the path to victory. I am ready to help, however I can. Like everyone here, I live for football and for the national team. I have always made myself available," he said.
"I have a special fondness for Felipao (Scolari). I know how he works, and I know what he wants me to do. I have to show that I belong here. That is my aim."
Scolari met his squad for the first time yesterday. With the World Cup in Brazil less than 18 months away, he dismissed any idea that tonight's fixture will be friendly in nature despite being a part of the FA's 150th birthday celebrations.
"This is about gathering people behind us, to integrate fans and people with us for our big goal, which is being champion in 2014 in hour home country. We've already lost one at home so now it's our turn to win it and that's our big goal." (© Independent News Service)
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