Following the heartbreak of semi-final elimination at the hands of Argentina two years ago, Brazil are out to restore pride and recover the FIFA U-20 World Cup title from their great rivals at Canada 2007 , which begins on 30 June.
First, though, Nelson Rodrigues must successfully guide his charges through this month's South American U-20 Championship, which serves as a qualifier to the global showpiece, and a star-studded squad suggests that the coach is leaving nothing to chance as he looks to secure Brazil a 14th consecutive appearance at the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
The draw for Paraguay-hosted event certainly smiled on the Seleção, who avoided holders Colombia as well as fellow contenders Uruguay and Argentina. Instead, the Auriverde face a curtain-raiser against Chile on 7 January, before matches against Peru, Bolivia and then the hosts in their concluding Group A match. The top three from pools A and B will progress to the final phase.
Having claimed the silver medal at the last two editions of the South American Youth Championship, the Brazilian camp, aching to stand highest on the end-of-tournament podium, assembled on 11 December, well in advance of their trip across the Paraguayan border. Thereafter, Nelson Rodrigues' side competed in a series of warm-up matches, improving with each performance and capping off their preparations with an impressive 10-0 win over a Camapua XI.
Although a youth competition, Nelson Rodrigues' stunning group includes two players who have recently featured in senior Brazil squads.
Santos wingback Carlinhos, exalted for his speed and trickery, was summoned for international duty ahead of the Seleção's latest outing against Switzerland, while versatile midfielder Lucas teamed-up with the likes of Kaka, Ronaldinho and Robinho for the friendly against Ecuador in October. To followers of domestic football in Brazil, his inclusion had come as no surprise. The nephew of the legendary Leivinha, who represented his country at the 1974 FIFA World Cup™, the Gremio jewel experienced a spectacular ascent in 2006, which culminated in him pocketing Placar magazine's prestigious Golden Ball, awarded to the Brazilian Championship's best performer.
However, the name that has created the most excitement is that
of newly-crowned FIFA Club World Cup champion, Alexandre Pato . In
spite of his lack of experience - he helped Internacional win
Japan 2006 on only his third professional outing - the 17-year-old
is regarded as one of the hottest prospects on the planet, and
while neutrals will be looking forward to witnessing his rich
arsenal of skills, the rest of South America will be agonizing over
how to negate his indubitable threat.
When you add to the Brazilian pack the likes of Flamengo marksman Fabiano Oliveira, Leandro Lima of Sao Caetano and Alexandre Pato's club-mate, Luiz Adriano, whose semi-final strike earned Internacional the right to face Barcelona in Yokohama, it becomes apparent why they are heavily fancied to end this month as continental kings at U-20 level.
But history has emitted its warning signals. The
Seleção were strongly tipped to triumph at both the 2003
and 2005 South American Youth Championships before slipping up, and
in 1999, as the overwhelming favourites, they finished third behind
Argentina. Later that year, future FIFA World Cup competitors Julio
Cesar, Juan and Ronaldinho returned home disappointed from the FIFA
World U-20 event in Nigeria. Nelson Rodrigues must ensure that the
class of 2007, one that possesses quality in equal measure, does
not crash and burn in similar fashion.
Victory against Chile on Sunday would certainly represent a positive first step towards success.