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Brazil think glory's in their grasp

Ian Ladyman

Their qualification may have been painfully laboured and the durability of their star player Ronaldo remains in question, but Brazil are going into the World Cup convinced they can triumph again.

Yet the four-time winners, who begin their challenge here against Turkey on Monday, have never arrived at a World Cup in a more indifferent state.

Ronaldo only returned recently from a serious knee problem and memories of a stumbling qualification campaign that included six defeats are still fresh.

But Juninho, Brazil's impish play-maker, believes they are programmed to produce their best every four years. The former Middlesbrough midfielder said: 'Brazilian people have a tradition of distrusting the national team, so I understand we are setting off with

them in a pessimistic mood. But once the tournament starts we will be fine. Brazilians always equate the World Cup with victory.

'Brazil are still the team that everyone wants to beat. I definitely think we are among the favourites. Our aim is to get to the final and to win the title. We know we did not have a good qualifying campaign, but that is in the past now.'

Pitched into a group with Turkey, Costa Rica and China, Brazil would appear to have been given a helping hand as they look to make progress.

Should they win the group, the second round also would appear to present relatively few problems, the second-placed team from the group containing Russia, Belgium, Japan and Tunisia providing the opposition.

Behind the collective will of coach Luiz Felipe Scolari and his players is the memory of the 1998 final in Paris, when Brazil were cast into a state of turmoil by pre- match illness to Ronaldo and proceeded to hand their trophy to France with perhaps the most inept performance of their glorious history.

The psychological damage of that evening cannot be overstated and the last four years have been spent changing players and coaching staff with alarming frequency.

More than 60 players were used in Brazil's 18 qualifying games that brought defeats by Ecuador and Bolivia, while three coaches preceded Scolari.

At last, the first- choice XI would appear to pick itself once more and the World Cup will have few more intriguing sub-plots than that involving Ronaldo and his efforts to re-establish himself among the great modern players.

A goal against Malaysia in the days before Brazil's arrival here in South Korea - his first at international level for two years - was greeted with some fanfare in his home country, but the 25-year-old knows that this is the stage upon which he must perform.

'It's been very tough,' he said. 'It's been two years of sacrifice, but now it's over. The serious injury has been defeated. I am ready to play.

'We can do well because we arrive not as favourites. This can be very positive for us. Before, especially last time, we were under a great deal of pressure, but now there's a sense that if we lose, well, we lose.

'The truth is that we do have a good team. We are at the World Cup and are going to work incredibly hard to get to the final and win.'

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