"It's not as if my loyalties are divided, but let's just say I'm going to be neutral." As those words suggest, former Brazil and South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira is trying hard not to show his allegiance to A Seleção ahead of their FIFA Confederations Cup semi-final meeting with the tournament hosts. Having coached his native country at two FIFA World Cup™ finals and also helped build the current South Africa during his spell in charge of Bafana Bafana, Parreira is understandably sitting on the fence in the build-up to Thursday's big game.
In an interview with FIFA.com, the current Fluminense coach tipped Brazil to win the match but also revealed his soft spot for the home nation. "I really hope South Africa play a great game, and I'm sure that they will," he said. "Joel Santana knows how to set the team up and while I'm sure that Brazil's superior technique will show through in the end, I'm also convinced that the Seleção will have a lot of work to do."
During his spell in charge of the South Africans from early 2007 to April 2008, Parreira was responsible for blooding many of the players who now form the core of the side coached by his compatriot and friend Joel Santana. "I gave the goalkeeper [Itumeleng] Khune and Teko Modise their international debuts, for example," he recalled. "I remember my last game in charge very well, a 3-0 defeat of Paraguay. [Tsepo] Masilela and [Siphiwe] Tshabalala did really well in that match and I'm delighted to see that all these players are improving fast and showing the whole world their quality."
Quite apart from his role in nurturing South Africa's talented crop of players, Parreira has an obvious sense of affection for the team he was forced to leave a little over a year ago due his wife's health problems. "South Africa like to play good football more than anything else," continued the 66-year-old. "The pressure is off them now that they have reached the semi-finals. It's Brazil who are under pressure now."
And as Parreira explains, Bafana Bafana will not lack incentive when they run out at Ellis Park to face the five-time world champions. "South Africa play relaxed football. They enjoy the game. I spoke to Joel Santana on the phone and he told me that they're all very excited at the prospect of playing the Seleção. What better way to gain experience than by playing Brazil with a place in the final of the Confederations Cup at stake?"
Having coached four different teams at five FIFA World Cup finals, (Kuwait at Spain 1982, UAE at Italy 1990; Saudi Arabia at France 1998 and Brazil at USA 1994 and Germany 2006), few tacticians boast Parreira's wealth of experience and analytical ability. Putting his attachment to the South African cause to one side, he makes a logical assessment of their chances against Dunga's side.
"There's a big difference between the two teams in terms of technique. Brazil are far superior to South Africa not just because of their record but also because of the way they are playing at the moment. I do think South Africa can make life difficult for the Seleção, though, and if that happens I'll be happy."