Deja vu for Soares
Alexandre Soares knows exactly what to expect on Sunday. The 41-year-old coach took charge of the national side after the disappointment of 2005, steering his charges to the title in 2006 and has just taken them back to yet another final showdown. "I don't know what's harder: winning the title for the first time or retaining it. It's tough, you know," he tells FIFA.com.
Victory over France is still fresh in the memory and Soares offers a very candid assessment of Saturday's events. "We've beaten them easily every time we've played them recently. Eric Cantona tried to motivate his players by telling them France were better but he must have known that wasn't true. They always play the same way and that makes things easier for us."
A member of the national team's coaching staff since 2003,
Soares knows his players inside out and is better qualified than
anyone to explain the reasons behind their continued success.
"It's a very strong unit with a great ability to react to
situations," he says.
"Everyone talks about Buru and it's true he's playing well, but what about Sidney? He's a class act. Junior Negao plays an important tactical role, as does Benjamin, who we've all been expecting more of. And for me Mao is the best keeper in the world. I've got a real team here."
As for Sunday's rivals, the coach has nothing but praise. "Mexico didn't come with the same kind of credentials as Portugal, France or Russia, but we knew how much they had come on. They're very solid at the back, they're tactically organised, they can hit quickly on the break and they're sharp up front. All in all I think it's going to be an exciting match."
After guaranteeing that his men will not be as careless in the final as they were at the start of their 6-4 defeat of Mexico in the group phase, Soares makes his final prediction. "The match will be won by the team that is more focused, the team that sticks together better. Of course individual players will have a bearing. When things get tight, they can make all the difference. But I'm sure the champions will be the team that performs better as a group."
Everything to gain
Ramon Raya has a broad grin on his face, and no wonder. 21 months after taking on the job in February 2006, he has led Mexico to the final of a competition it had never appeared in before. "I'd be lying if I said we were expecting this," he confesses to FIFA.com. "Most people reckoned we'd finish third in the group at the very best and here we are in the final. That must be a heck of a surprise for them."
As he explains, the secret of their success has been simple. "Hard work. You're always working towards things like this, but what has surprised me most of all has been our ability to adapt to situations and make the most of them, not to mention our strength as a team. The players have great self-belief because in the matches they've been able to see for themselves everything we've been telling them. They're convinced they can become champions. Let's see how they're going to stop them."
When the subject turns to Sunday's opponents, Raya gets to the point straightaway. "They are a great side and they've got the best player in the world in Buru. What can I say about Brazil that hasn't already been said? That we're going to beat them."
Confident talk from the man who represented his country at the FIFA U-17 World Cup China 1985, but Raya is very clear about Mexico's gameplan for the big finale. Asked what he plans to change from the first-round defeat, he provides a surprising response. "Nothing. We've played exactly the same way in every game."
And before he departs, he offers one last pearl of wisdom. "The final's not theirs, it's ours. It's the game of our lives after all. The last thing I'll say to them before they go out will be this, 'There's the trophy: all you've got to do now is grab it.'"