Brazil back with a bang
© AFP

It was supposed to be the year in which Brazil's latest wonder cast cemented their place in the pantheon of football's greatest-ever sides. Indeed, Kaka, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Co were not only the favourites to win the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, but they were expected to seize gold in the same mouth-watering fashion as their predecessors of 1958 and 1970. Things, however, did not go according to the script envisaged by a majority of their countrymen.

There is no doubt that a boost was needed in 2007, and there is equally no doubt that Brazilian football received this lift. From start to finish, Brazilians were given repeated cause for cheer, provided by men and women, teenagers and old-timers; on the turf, the sand and even away from the action at two prestigious ceremonies in Zurich - the last 12 months will certainly go down as a profitable period for the South American giants.

Men triumph, women thrill
The year began with Brazil winning the South American U-20 Championship and, in the process, qualifying for the Men's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008 - the only men's prize missing from the country's revered collection. It was in July, though, that Brazilian football earned the pinnacle of its annual successes.

The Seleção entered the Copa America in Venezuela without first-choice players Julio Cesar, Lucio, Kaka and Ronaldinho and trailing Argentina on the favourites' list. This position was seemingly justified when the five-time world champions lost 2-0 to Mexico in their opener while their arch-rivals handed USA a 4-1 reverse.

But Dunga held a trump card in Robinho, who thereafter illuminated the tournament, finished as its leading marksman and propelled his nation to the final. There, his team-mates did the majority of the damage in a 3-0 defeat of Argentina. Brazil went on to make a sound start to their 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualification campaign, taking eight points from their opening four games.

The women's team also captured gold in July at the Pan-American Games, scoring 33 goals without reply in an event the country hosted impressively. Next up for Jorge Barcellos' side was the FIFA Women's World Cup in China, but despite a captivating title charge, which included an emphatic 4-0 upset of USA in the semi-finals, they lost out 2-0 to Germany in the final.

Nevertheless, the incomparable Marta and team-mates had succeeded in putting the women's game on the map in their homeland and, subsequently, the CBF (Brazilian Football Confederation) launched the first women's Copa do Brasil, won by Mato Grosso do Sul last month.

Brazil's final team honour of 2007 came in November, when the likes of Buru, Junior Negao and Bruno united to guarantee the successful defence of their FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup trophy.

Back on the turf, the Seleção also reigned supreme on the continent at U-15 and U-17 level. Their U-17 starlets also provided some magical moments at Korea 2007, although, alike their U-20 counterparts, they were unable to become world champions.

A catalogue of stars
Kaka, Marta and Buru were deservedly crowned at the FIFA World Player Gala, but a number of their compatriots also excelled in 2007. Robinho repeated his exceptional performances for Brazil in the white of Real Madrid upon his return from Venezuela, while Julio Cesar, Juan, Maicon, Elano, Diego, Alex de Souza, Amauri, Rivaldo, Afonso Alves and Luis Fabiano all enjoyed memorable years.

Teenagers also hit the headlines. Anderson made waves for Manchester United, Alexandre Pato earned a big-money move to AC Milan, and defender Breno joined Bayern Munich after playing a central role in Sao Paulo's capture of the Brasileiro crown.

It was, however, a veteran who claimed the top honour at the CBF/Globo end-of-season awards ceremony, Tricolor Paulista keeper Rogerio Ceni, 34, receiving the Player of the Year gong. Tulio Maravilha continued his relentless pursuit of 1,000th career goals by his personal count, something Vasco's Romario achieved on an emotional night at the Sao Januario.

Women's stars Cristiane and Daniela Alves can also take immense pride from their achievements last year, as can Alessandro and Andre on the beach soccer circuit.

The most famous face in the history of the sport was also left sporting his unmistakeable grin in December. At the FIFA World Player Gala at the Zurich Opera House, Pele collected the FIFA Presidential Award for 50 years of magnificent service to football. Less than two months earlier in the same Swiss city, euphoria was spread among Brazilians when FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter announced they had won the right to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup ™.

The 20th edition of the FIFA World Cup may be six-and-a-half years away, but 2007 has inspired confidence that Brazilian football has a very bright more immediate future.