Luiz Felipe Scolari has been the coach of a host country at a major footballing tournament before when he led Portugal to the final of UEFA EURO 2004. He believes that experience will be crucial over the next 100 days as he prepares to lead Brazil at world football’s showpiece event.
In an exclusive and in-depth interview with FIFA.com, the World Cup-winner discusses the expectation on his team’s shoulders, A Seleção’s opponents in the group stages, lessons from the past and organisational issues.
FIFA.com: Just 100 days remain until the start of the 2014 World Cup. Are Brazil ready to claim the title?
Luiz Felipe Scolari: As far as our planning for the World Cup is concerned, Brazil are ready. Everything is organised, defined and on the right track. If we stick to this schedule, things are likely to go well for us.
The Brazilian public will see anything other than victory in the Final as a failure. Do you agree with this?
I have a completely different perspective. I have had a lot of experience, and have been in a couple of situations where teams are applauded by their fans even if they don’t become champions, runners-up or even finish in third place. Instead, it is much more a matter of the team’s performance. If you are a team like Brazil and you take part in a World Cup, everybody expects you to lift the trophy. We are certainly working towards that aim, but with a healthy respect for the other teams that will go into the competition with the same target in mind. Being at home in Brazil, we will use our quality to try and achieve our goal, and if we fall short, it will be because another team simply outplays us.
Is there increased pressure on the team because the tournament will be played on home soil?
Expectations are certainly higher because it is the second World Cup to be held in Brazil, and because we have a chance to accomplish what we did not manage to do last time. But we will be up against other strong opponents also hoping to win the tournament.
You have previous experience of leading a team on their own turf at a major competition after coaching Portugal at the 2004 European Championship. You were beaten by Greece in the final that year. What lessons have you learned from that defeat?
It was a helpful experience; I now have a better idea of how we should behave going into a final, and how a team playing a final in its own country should organise itself and approach the match in order to lift the trophy. I know we can enjoy the experience of playing in front of home crowds, but at the same time we have to be aware that it will hurt more if we lose. I will be able to use that past experience when working with our players.
If you are a team like Brazil and you take part in a World Cup, everybody expects you to lift the trophy. We are certainly working towards that aim.
Luiz Felipe Scolari, Brazil coach.
How do you assess the teams from Mexico, Cameroon and Croatia that you’ll be playing in the group stages?
Croatia play good, technically sophisticated football. Their style of play is similar to that of South American teams in that they are strong on the ball. The team no longer plays in the more English style they once did; instead, they’re extremely technically adept and play at a high level as a result. Cameroon are a very technical African side. We have often expected certain things from them only for everything to turn out differently, or have expected nothing, only for the whole team to surprise us. In contrast, Mexico are one of our traditional opponents. They play high-quality football. There is a long history of matches between Brazil and Mexico, and they’re always tricky encounters.
Does the fact that these teams play very technical football help Brazil at all?
Yes, because it’s the way we prefer to play, too. It’s always interesting for us to come up against other teams who play similarly good football. Brazil have often played poorly against teams who take a different approach – teams who are somewhat anti-football and who focus on picking their opponent’s game apart. It’s better to play teams who are as good or better than Brazil, as it gives us an opportunity to outplay them. We can go into matches against teams such as Spain with our usual vigour and without facing any unnecessary stress or psychological barriers.
Has the success of Spain and Barcelona forced the rest of the world to adapt to their short passing game?
I think the skills of those Barcelona players progressively complemented one another. Naturally, everyone is now analysing how and why that came to be, but this kind of football can only ever promise success for a limited time. Over the past few decades, there were times when everyone had to analyse the Italian brand of football in great detail, or the German way. There have always been different characteristics for each coach to observe closely and learn so that they can benefit from them.
You have also worked in Arab countries and know world football very well. Do you think an Asian or African team could spring a surprise at this World Cup?
The odd surprise, yes, but it would be very difficult for any of them to win the tournament, because the traditional footballing powers will always have more options available to them. They can look back on a long tradition and play more tightly. These are teams with far greater experience and more strong players at their disposal, and that increases their chances of success. There are one or two European or South American teams in that outside role who could have a chance, but I don’t think any team from Africa or Asia is able to win the World Cup right now.
You are the coach of one of these “traditional” teams. How do you use this history to motivate your players?
We make sure the players know what has been achieved and show them what they can do in their own careers with the national side. We make it clear that past Brazil teams won their trophies with commitment, spirit and class. And we give them the confidence they need to put their exceptional skills into practice on the pitch.
When you became world champion with Brazil in 2002, you had exceptional players such as Cafu, Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo at your disposal. Is this new generation as strong as the previous one?
It’s not just the talent you have to compare; the 2002 side had more experience. In contrast, the current team has a lot of enthusiasm and drive. Back then, the team’s experience was probably the deciding factor, but who knows whether or not drive and enthusiasm will be more important this time around?
As the World Cup approaches, it continues to be beset with organisational problems, delayed stadium construction and political skirmishes. Do you let yourself be affected by any of this at all?
No, I am making sure we are not influenced or affected by any of these circumstances. Of course, we’re affected as people, as citizens and as Brazilians, but we have to be able to detach ourselves from that and tell our players to do the same, so that they can draw a line under it and focus entirely on events on the football pitch. Everyone has their own opinion, but right now each player must concentrate and focus solely on the task they’ve been called up for. The players have reacted emotionally at times. We speak to them openly about it and they can air their opinions via social media, but we have rules within the team and we stick to them.
You were two years old the first time the World Cup was held in Brazil…
I can’t remember Brazil playing in the 1950 Final, of course, but many people have bitter memories of our defeat by Uruguay. I disagree about that; I think those players opened a door for us and put us on the road to winning five subsequent World Cups. That’s the perspective I pass on to our current players about their predecessors at the 1950 World Cup.
What will you be doing on 13 July at 16:00 local time?
Okay, I know the Final is scheduled for 13 July. Well, if it starts at 16:00, I’ll be on the sidelines preparing for the match. I will have sung the national anthem full of joy, fervour and vigour and hope the same will be true for my players and the Brazilian public.
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