Madrid (AFP) – A rejuvenated Brazil looking to heal the wounds of home soil humiliation four years ago will lead the South American charge for the World Cup in 2018, but a slew of European powerhouses stand in the way of redemption in Russia.
Germany thrashed Brazil 7-1 en route to becoming world champions four years ago and will also be comfortable with their surroundings, having added the Confederations Cup to their honours list in Russia earlier this year.
That latest feat was achieved despite leaving a host of their World Cup winners at home to rest ahead of the challenge to become the first side to retain the trophy since Brazil in 1962.
“We have an eye on the entire course of the tournament until the final, as our main goal is winning the World Cup title again,” admitted former Germany striker Oliver Bierhoff, who is in charge of his country’s logistical preparations for the tournament.
There won’t just be national pride and prestige at stake for the German players, as each member of the squad has been promised a 350,000 euros ($411,267) bonus should they bring the trophy home for a fifth time.
That would equal Brazil’s record, but the belief shaken out of Brazil by their mauling by Germany has been restored by a remarkable transition and return to form under coach Tite.
The bounce-back began with a miniature slice of revenge when they beat Germany on penalties to win their first ever Olympic football gold at the Rio Games with a young team led by Neymar.
Tite then took control of a floundering World Cup qualifying campaign and is still yet to lose a competitive international match, with a stunning record of 10 wins and two draws from his 12 matches in charge.
“The respect towards the team now is different to what it was three or four years ago after the World Cup. People see us differently,” Neymar told FIFA.com.
Not only has Tite got Brazil winning again, but he’s also brought back the famous free-flowing ‘Joga Bonito’ attacking style that characterised the famous yellow shirt and had been lost under the likes of Dunga and Luiz Felipe Scolari at recent World Cups.
“The Brazil that everyone respects and admires is back; a team that enjoys good football,” added Neymar.
“The mood of our fans and our country has changed. Everyone’s confident and happy looking ahead to the World Cup. You can’t put a price on that.”
Switzerland, Serbia and Costa Rica are first up for Neymar’s new entertainers in Group E.
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Spain’s clash against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal should provide an explosive start on the second day of the tournament, provided that the 2010 winners are allowed to keep their place in Russia.
FIFA have threatened that Spain could be sensationally thrown out of the tournament due to government interference in elections for the presidency of the Spanish federation after Angel Maria Villar was forced to step down for corruption.
“I don’t believe the offices will take from Spain what we have won on the pitch,” insisted Spain captain Sergio Ramos.