Brazil have a rich tradition of success on the world youth
stage. In 2003, they claimed their third FIFA U-17 World Cup crown
in four attempts and also hit the jackpot in the U-20 event, tieing
four-time champions Argentina as the record winners in the category
and becoming the first side in history to claim both titles in the
Unsurprisingly, they went into 2005 as the overwhelming favourites to record a double triumph. However, in the senior of the two tournaments, the side committed the unforgivable sin of losing to arch-rivals Argentina in their semi-final contest, before their much-hyped U-17 team fell to a 3-0 defeat by Mexico in a one-sided final in Peru. Brazilian pride had been damaged.
Nevertheless, after storming to the U-20 and U-17 continental titles earlier this year, charming South American audiences along the way in their identifiable, flair-conscious style, confidence was high that the Brazilians were poised to restore their status as planet football's youth kings in 2007. With the U-20s' assault on glory having recently blown up in smoke on Canadian soil, that objective rests solely in the hands of their juniors, whose FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007 campaign will begin against New Zealand on 18 August.
While few would dispute that Lucho Nizzo's side possesses the talent to both exhilarate and conquer the watching world, the question remains which of the Seleção's contrasting faces will turn up in the Far East: the irrepressible machine that powered through the final phase of the South American U-17 Championship to take gold in March, or the one that lethargically scraped through to the concluding round in Ecuador and, more recently, was eliminated from the Pan American Games Rio 2007 by La Tri, a side they whitewashed in their own backyard just months earlier.
At his disposal, Nizzo certainly has one of the most skilful casts Brazil has ever boasted at this level, and his players are well aware of the fruits of an impressive showing. Marcelo (Real Madrid), Ramon (CSKA Moscow), Celsinho (Lokomotiv Moscow), Denilson (Arsenal) and Anderson (Manchester United) were all fast-tracked to Europe following Peru 2005, and it is inevitable that a selection of their successors will follow their route to the lucrative shores of the Old Continent.
Corinthians boy wonder Lulinha, who pocketed both the best player and top scorer awards at the South American U-17 Championship earlier this year, will enter the world finals with immense hype to justify, but the Seleção are far more than just a one-man team.
In Alex of Vasco, they have a player whose guile, dribbling and speed can serve to unbuckle the meanest of backlines, while Tales is the latest sparkling product on Internacional's stunning conveyor belt and striker Maicon is a frightening proposition for opposition defences.
Brazilian football has been graced by some memorable siblings over the years, among them the Fantoni brothers, Zico and Edu, Rai and Socrates, and Assis and Ronaldinho. The latter pair are, in fact, both graduates of the FIFA U-17 World Cup, the current Barcelona superstar inspiring the Seleção to victory at Egypt 1997, ten years after his older brother experienced heartache in Canada.
Running the Brazilian flanks in Korea will be Rafael and Fabio,
identical twins who have been already been heralded as the
long-term successors to Cafu and Roberto Carlos at senior level.
Sharing parallel traits; a remarkable engine, the ability to take
on opponents and an impressive end product, Manchester United will
have the opportunity to exercise a pre-contract agreement and take
them from Fluminense to Old Trafford in July 2008.
Right-wingback Rafael was one of Brazil's star performers during the Pan American Games, while No6 Fabio was, Lulinha aside, arguably the most illuminative figure at the 2007 South American U-17 Championship, where he finished as runner-up on the scoring chart with seven goals.
All or nothing
The ingredients are there for Brazil. It is now up to Nizzo to evoke the best from his charges, as his predecessor Edgar Pereira did so masterfully en route to glory at Ecuador 2007. With New Zealand, England and Korea DPR for company in Group B, the tactician will be keen to avoid making the slow start that complicated the team's route to the final phase of the continental finals.
But if the Seleção U-17s can hit the sort of form that drove them to overcome Argentina 2-0, Peru 4-0, Venezuela 4-0 and the hosts 5-2 to claim regional bragging rights in March, the rest of the world will have their work cut out denying them a return to the top of the podium on 9 September.