Brazilian dream in the balance

Four years ago, fans across the globe were won over by the beauty and skill of Brazil in their courageous bid to win the Women's Olympic Football Tournament Athens 2004. The Canarinhas made it all the way to the final, but ultimately had to make do with silver after an extra-time goal by Abby Wambach secured USA the title.

Then last September at the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007, the Seleção were once more at their sumptuous best, but again they fell at the final hurdle, this time finishing runners-up to Germany.

Next Saturday, Brazil will be back in China PR, battling it out for the last qualifying berth for the Women's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008. Jorge Barcellos' side find themselves having to contest a play-off after losing to Argentina in the final of the 2006 Sudamericano, which doubled as the Olympic qualifying tournament. If the South Americans are to return to the Olympic stage and emulate their feat of four years ago, then they must first get past CAF runners-up Ghana when the pair meet at the Workers' Stadium in Beijing on 19 April.

We have a lot of respect for Ghana, but we'll be really up for this game
Brazil coach Jorge Barcellos

"There is a lot of pressure and you're always a bit wary. . What I will say is that we're very well prepared, something which will help keep our nerves in check and give us confidence," the Brazilian coach told exclusively, shortly before embarking for the Chinese capital.

The Canarinha squad has been together since assembling on 19 March in Granja Comary, where the Brazilian FA has its training facilities for all the national teams. As well as the demanding workouts and practice sessions, they have also played three friendly games. The side's European-based players, namely Marta, Cristiane, Daniela Alves, Renata Costa and Rosana, were not at the month-long get-together but will join up with the rest of the group en route to China.

"The fact that they missed the squad training sessions is not a problem, as they have been working with their club sides. Furthermore, they spent a long time on national team duty last year. What concerns me most is the short length of time we'll have to adapt to conditions in China," says Barcellos.

To fast-track their acclimatisation to the cold and dry weather conditions, the team, who touched down in China on Tuesday, will participate in daily training sessions in facilities adjoining the stadium where they will face Ghana. Despite the challenges facing his side, the coach insists that "morale among the players is very good."

The goal: a fourth Olympic appearance
"My dream is to compete at the Olympics for the fourth time, but to do that we have to beat Ghana," says evergreen defender Tania Maranhao. "We'll do everything in our power to achieve that and keep our Olympic dream alive. I came very close to winning gold in 2004, and this time we could go one better. To do this, however, we'll have to work really hard, beat Ghana and only then start talking about medal prospects," she adds with a mixture of caution and resolve.

"We're in the mix, but we can't afford to lose our focus as we still have a game to win to secure our Olympic place," says Maranhao's midfield team-mate Formiga. Given the misfortune that has accompanied the Brazilians in the latter stages of recent major championships, it comes as no surprise to hear Formiga add that she would "prefer to play ugly and go through, than play beautifully and miss out."

As for their opponents, Ghana, Brazil's knowledge of them may not extend much beyond what they saw at China 2007, where the Africans finished bottom of Group C after heavy defeats by Australia, Canada and Norway, by 4-1, 4-0 and 7-2 scorelines respectively.

There's delight at meeting up again with some friends, but an element of sadness about our past experience of losing the world title here
Jorge Barcellos on returning to China, where Brazil lost in the final of last year's FIFA Women's World Cup

Naturally, the South American delegation have mixed emotions about returning to China, just seven months after that painful final defeat in Shanghai. " ," admits Barcellos.

Painful as that defeat was, it did secure Brazil a place in the hearts of the native fans, as witnessed by the wealth of canary-yellow in the stands at the China 2007 final. "We're very confident the Chinese public will again give us their help and support for this decisive match," concludes the coach.