Brazil may only have made the last 16 as one of the best third-placed teams after defeats against Group D rivals Poland and the USA and a solitary victory over Korea Republic, but the Canarinha remain serious title contenders.
Even after such a lacklustre start, the quality of players in the Auriverde squad cannot be underestimated. Much has been said about the prodigiously talented Alexandre Pato from SC Internacional of Porto Alegre, winners of both the Copa Libertadores de America and FIFA Club World Cup Japan in 2006. Now is the time to take a closer look at Marcelo, proud owner of a La Liga winners' medal after his first season in Spain.
Marcelo Vieira da Silva Junior joined Spanish giants Real Madrid last year, signing a contract up until 2012. Wednesday's game in Burnaby will pit him against a plethora of familiar faces as Spain boast no fewer than six members of the Merengues' youth team in their squad for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007. The flying left-back has played just six first-team matches for Los Blancos, so knows the young Madrid contingent well.
"I've already told my coach how they play because I've seen them and they're very good," says a cheery Marcelo after training on the outskirts of Vancouver. "But we're not scared of anybody. We know they're good footballers, but we are too. We can't concern ourselves with individual players, we need to keep an eye on every one of them."
The Brazil squad are aware that their glittering image has lost a little gloss after their group-stage performances, but prefer to focus on the challenge ahead. "We're going to have to stick together as a team if we want to beat Spain. And if we make it through that game we need to win, win and win again and, God willing, we'll be champions," says the gifted left-footer.
A product of the youth system of Rio de Janeiro outfit Fluminense, Marcelo's style of play has been likened to the man he was bought to replace at the Bernabeu: Roberto Carlos. Blessed with seemingly bottomless physical reserves that power his constant attacking surges, he also appears to share his former Madrid team-mate's good humour and positive attitude. "We're very highly motivated. We're thinking positively, but we can't afford to let Spain into the game," he warns, without losing his ever-present smile.
Mere hours after touching down in Vancouver after making the journey from Ottawa, the Verdeamarelos were already on the training ground in Burnaby working on the flaws that cost them two defeats in three Group D games. According to coach Nelson Rodrigues, it was a lack of composure in front of goal that cost his charges dear: "Against the USA we were getting shots in at goal from all angles but it wouldn't go in for us. Spain are a very well-organised team, perhaps the toughest we could have been drawn against in the last sixteen."
"We're training really hard and are going to analyse Spain's last game to see where we can do them damage. But we're going to have to work really hard if we want to beat them," continues the young Merengue, whose team have precious little time to assimilate the three-hour time difference with Ottawa.
Marcelo knows coach Rodrigues' methods well, having played under him at the FIFA U-17 World Championship Peru 2005, and has also tasted action for Brazil's senior side, currently in Copa America action. Called up by Auriverde supremo Dunga in August 2006, he marked his debut in September against Wales with a well-taken goal. While sad to miss out on the continental showpiece, the gifted defender is delighted to be in Canada with the U-20s: "It's always an honour to wear the Seleção colours, whether it be in the U-20 World Cup or the Copa America. I'm completely focused on doing well at this tournament."
His esteemed colleague Pato is equally forthright, and is grateful for Marcelo's interpreting skills when faced with the Spanish press pack following the fortunes of the Furia Roja. "My mind is totally focused on the Brazilian national team. I'm 100-percent committed, and I'm doing what's best for the team. There have been games where I've not been able to score, but my only aim for every match is to get on the scoresheet and win," vows the 17-year-old wunderkind.
"Everybody says that he's got huge potential and besides which he's still very young. I really look up to him and it's great to able to play alongside him here for the national team," says Marcelo with a nod towards his noticeably more shy team-mate.
"We're really pleased to have got through the first phase," says the Internacional striker, retaking the initiative. "But we've got to do things better from now on. The team are keen to show how well they can really play football. We're confident that we can perform better and come away with the win."
The final word stays with Brazil's No.11, of whom so much is expected. "I'm still not satisfied with my performance. I'll only be happy when we've got our hands on the trophy."