After four long years, tomorrow begins the Seleção Brasileira’s quest for a record sixth World Cup title when they face off against North Korea. Perennial favorites, Brazil’s squad nonetheless has a considerable challenge early on, as they are in Group G, this year’s Group of Death. Between 2006 semi-finalist Portugal, Africa’s best hope Côte d’Ivoire, and top-ranking Brazil, someone isn’t going to make it to the knockout stages. That means Portuguese prettyboy phenom Cristiano Ronaldo, Ivorian superstar and African footballer of the year Didier Drogba, or Brazilian linchpin Kaká will be watching from the couch before the end of June.
Brazil vs. North Korea — Tuesday, June 15, 2:30 pm EST — Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Brazil vs. Côte d’Ivoire — Sunday, June 20, 2:30 pm EST — Soccer City, Johannesburg
Brazil vs. Portugal — Friday, June 25, 10:00 am EST — Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban
It’s a scary proposition for a team that always has everything at stake — nothing less than a championship is good enough — and will inevitably lead to outcries about Coach Dunga’s unorthodox player selection. Legend Carlos Alberto has taken the coach to task and 1982 midfielder Sócrates calls them “a very bureaucratic team, very conservative” in a recent interview. That said, the infamous Pelé has come to Dung’as defense and the coach himself has not been silent to his critics. Above all, the concern is that each year the Brazilian national team gets further and further from the artful soccer that Pelé, Garrincha, and the ’60s and ’70s teams made famous, in favor of methodical, European soccer. Good for winning, sure, but then Brazilian soccer has always been about winning with style.
But Dunga’s team will take the field whether you like the picks or not, so the more pertinent question is how will they fare? Despite the Group of Death draw, the odds are still strong they will make it out of the group stage. The real contest will be between Portugal and Côte d’Ivoire for the second spot. Once they enter the round of 16, it’s anybody’s Cup depending on where Brazil ends up. The real key is Kaká — the team is structured around him in the pivot from defense to offense — but he may not be 100% healthy heading into tomorrow’s opener after persistent thigh problems. But the star himself says he’s ready to go and with less than 24 hours before kickoff, we’ll find out soon enough.
Braziladelphia hopes to organize a World Cup viewing party for the June 25 match against Portugal — the Lusophone showdown. If you are interested in attending, RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org so we can get a headcount when contacting establishments where we can host the party.
And as a final good luck send-off, here is Carlos Alberto’s 1970 World Cup final goal against Italy, widely considered the greatest Copa goal ever.