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Scolari's squad are carrying the faith of a nation

IT is a wonder Luiz Felipe Scolari can sleep at night.

The 65-year-old Brazil manager carries the hopes and dreams of 200 million people, a volatile football-obsessed public hanging on his every utterance.

It isn't exactly the experience which confronted his countryman Marcio Maximo Barcellos at little Livingston in 2003 but the one-time Almondvale manager - who is covering the tournament for African and Mexican TV - does recognise the burden Brazil and their veteran coach will feel competing for a record sixth World Cup, this time on home soil.

For the record, the former Brazil youth coach, who lasted just nine matches in West Lothian, puts his nation alongside Spain, Argentina and Germany on his list of contenders for the title. He is even prepared to afford the hosts the tag of marginal outright favourites.

Having said that, he accepts the supposed advantage of playing at home could quickly become a millstone should the Selecao not start the tournament as planned. Burned into the national psyche are those images of 1950, when disbelieving, distraught fans threw themselves from the top tier of the Maracana after the trauma of losing the final to Uruguay.

"For me personally, Brazil deserve to be favourites because they will have the support of the public and the stadiums but it is important to understand one thing," Maximo. said "Play well, and the crowd can help you, but if you are playing badly this can be a big worry: it can actually count against you because the pressure will be so high.

"Our fans don't have a lot of patience. If the team starts to play badly then it is a problem, because they start to turn against the team."

Armed with surely the strongest national talent pool of any competing country, Scolari was confident enough to leave out players such as Lucas Moura of Paris Saint-Germain and Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool. Maximo feels Scolari generally has the balance right, but admits the squad are perhaps overly ­reliant up front on Fred, an unheralded 30-year-old striker who has been playing at Fluminense for the past four seasons since leaving Lyon.

The most reliable source of star quality in the squad is of course Neymar, who gave a sneak preview of what could transpire this year as Brazil captured last summer's Confederations Cup. Maximo is encouraged by the way the former Santos superstar ended the season at Barcelona - in comparison to the likes of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who seemed to fade as the campaign went on - and feels the squad are in a better place than when his Tanzania side lost 5-1 to Brazil in a warm-up for South Africa in 2010.

"I think this time the team is better," Maximo said. "That team had Kaka who was playing well, but he was not at the same level then as Neymar is now. Scolari is a good coach, very disciplined and very experienced. He has worked with Chelsea, worked in Portugal, and is good at understanding how European players and coaches think. I think he will be successful.

"There is a good balance to the squad and in my view Brazil have good options, but Fred is 30 now and has had some injuries. Whether he can recover for so many games in a short period is uncertain. I hope he can do that. I agree that Brazil don't have the same quality of players in this position as we have in others. But Fred had a very good Confederations Cup and I hope he can reach the same level this year."

With regular protests against expenditure on the World Cup, Brazil's president Dilma Rousseff has drafted in thousands more police and soldiers to ensure the tournament passes off safely.

"People have other priorities and many political sides use the World Cup to criticise and sometimes interfere in the enthusiasm towards the event," Maximo said. "We shouldn't forget the social problems we have but once the World Cup starts I believe people will focus on the football. Everyone should enjoy coming to our country. I hope it will be a very good World Cup for everyone."

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