Confederations Cup: Brazil's World Cup warm-up on & off pitch

By Ben SmithBBC Sport in Brazil
Match of the Day's eye-catching tournament opener

A day in Brazil is more than long enough for this football-mad nation to envelop you like few others can.

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It is an assault on the senses from the moment you lay eyes on the statue of Christ the Redeemer looking down on Rio from on high; a riot of colour and chaos from the moment you see the sand, surf and the favelas that cling to the hillsides.

The Confederations Cup, which begins in the capital Brasilia on Saturday, has only served to heighten the mood here. While some see the tournament as a summer sideshow, in Brazil it is viewed as a moment of reckoning - on and off the field.

There may be traffic jams and touts, exhaust fumes and rubble. The mythical Maracana may still be cowering in the shadow of cranes and surrounded by throng of workmen. But what really worries the people of Brazil is the form of their national team.

A thumping win over France has propelled the Selecao towards the tournament with renewed hope, having endured a less than convincing spell under the guidance of returning coach Luis Felipe Scolari, the architect of the 2002 World Cup win.

In Brazil, they talk of the "joga bonito" - the beautiful game - but the recent form has been anything but. Privately, some fear their beloved five-times world champions might even be embarrassed hosts at next year's World Cup, trailing behind Germany, Spain and, worst of all, Argentina.

Brazil desperately need to create momentum here, not least to quell the constant doubters.

This tournament represents the first time Scolari will have had the chance to work with his players for an extended period of time since returning as manager in November 2012.

Viewed as a unifying figure - a leader of men and winner - he is famed for using all means to motivate and inspire. In 2002, he slipped chapters from Sun Tzu's The Art of Warexternal-link under his team's hotel-room doors.

Brazil's opening match against Japan on Saturday will be the team's first competitive fixture in 23 months, during which time they have slipped to 22nd in the Fifa rankings, an all-time low.

Yet the passion with which this country follows the fortunes of its footballers remains undimmed. News programmes have broadcast pictures of the team bus driving to and from training this week.

And during next summer's World Cup, a national holiday will be declared on every day that Brazil play, shutting schools and shops.

The star names of this era may not yet rival those of the even the recent past, but this week they have been trailed by cameramen, paparazzi and fans. Only one has drawn the shrieks and screams young girls normally reserve for boy bands.

Neymar da Santos Junior is a 21-year-old who carries the burden of a national team and a nation on his shoulders. There is a sense in Brazil that his time has come, that his move to Barcelona will mould him into a worthy successor to Pele, Zico and the rest.

But while Brazil focuses on the football, the rest of the world simply wants to know whether this complicated, chaotic but utterly captivating country is ready to host a World Cup, let alone an Olympic Games two years later.

Brazil may have overtaken the United Kingdom last year to become the world's sixth-biggest economy, but precious little happens on time here. It never has, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that stadium opening dates will slip back.

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Much of what makes Brazil, Brazil is that very quality: a care-free love of life that so many envy.

The cliches are rich and familiar: the boys doing keepie-uppies with limes for pennies at the traffic lights; the sarongs; the thongs and breath-robbing vistas that make your heart skip a beat. The sights and sounds are unique, but so is the way of life.

Brazil knows it has one chance to show the world what it can do, just as London did in 2012. And how many doubted whether that great city would produce arguably the greatest Games of the modern era.

In spite of all the paranoia about crime and the contrasts in wealth, South Africa hosted the 2010 World Cup well, just as Poland and Ukraine did a good job hosting the European Championship in 2012.

In the past, Brazil was always ready when football came calling, it is a second skin.

The growing feeling here is that 2014 will be no different. The world might be watching, but Brazil expects.