Brazil wary of favoritism but accepts the First

Brazil has never been comfortable as a favorite to win a competition. Players can get complacent, other teams become motivated, or simple bad luck strikes.

Yet as the reigning Copa America and Confederations Cup champion, and as the winner of South American World Cup qualifying, Brazil is almost everybody's pick to win a record sixth title in Germany next year. British bookmakers William Hill and Ladbrokes both have Brazil as a clear 3-1 favorite.

Brazilian confederation President Ricardo Teixeira, however, is defying conventional wisdom and declaring Brazil as the team to beat. But Brazilians are leery about the front-runner status.

After Brazil won its first two titles in 1958 and 1962, the team seemed a natural contender for a third in 1966, led by a 25-year-old Pele in his prime. But the team played disastrously and was eliminated in the first round, finishing behind Portugal and Hungary.

In 1982, Brazil assembled another super-team, with Zico, Socrates, Falcao, Cerezzo, Junior and others. The team enchanted fans and cruised through the first two rounds, then was shocked 3-2 by Italy and eliminated on three goals by Paolo Rossi.

By contrast, Brazil limped into the Cup in 2002, clinching a berth only in its final qualifying game with a lineup of newcomers and injured stars. But the team won it's fifth trophy in Japan. Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, who managed the side to its fourth title in 1994, is more reserved. He praises his players but won't identify his team as favorite.

Quietly, Parreira is rebuilding the side. Only 40 percent of the 2002 roster remains, including starters Cafu, Roberto Carlos, Lucio, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo. More changes are coming, despite a 3-0 win over Venezuela on Wednesday that sealed first place in the South American qualifiers.

Palmeiras goalkeeper Marcos and Barcelona defender Edmilson, both member of the 2002 Cup champions, are recovering from injuries and could regain a spot on the team, AP reports.

А. А.

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