BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil: Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari says their Confederations Cup semi-final against Uruguay is a chance to provide a huge morale boost for a nation in turmoil after days of protests against corruption and maladministration.
“This is a crucial moment for the Brazilian team,” said Scolari as he looked forward to Wednesday’s match in Belo Horizonte.
“The things we are doing to build a better country will not be in vain if we can keep this up. Find a better life together and not fighting against each other. Then we can live in the country we always longed for.”
The importance of football can hardly be overstated in Brazil, and most fans still back the hosting of next year’s World Cup, despite anger at a 15 billion dollar bill — many insist the money could have been better sent on showing up sagging public services such as health, transport and education.
More than 1.5 million Brazilians have demonstrated against poor public services and corruption in recent days and some marches have turned violent, but polls say two thirds of fans back the World Cup.
World football body FIFA voiced confidence earlier that authorities can ensure security during Wednesday’s game despite the fact Belo Horizonte was the scene of an ugly 70,000-strong protest last Saturday.
Regional state authorities have decreed that any demonstrators follow a route well away from Mineirao Stadium and some 5,500 police are set to be on hand in case of trouble.
On the pitch, Brazil will welcome back Paulinho as they look to win a third straight Confederations title — if they get past Uruguay — then either world champions Spain or Italy await for Sunday’s final.
The defensive midfielder is fit after missing the win over Italy with an ankle injury.
Defender David Luiz is also set to start having been stretchered off against the Italians with a leg injury.
Striker Fred will once again be part of a forward trio completed by Neymar and Hulk.
Fred said: “I am really looking forward to the match — I feel right at home” in the Brazil side where he has been in tremendous recent form, hitting two goals against Italy.
Brazil have not lost to Uruguay since Scolari’s first match in charge in his first spell at the helm, in 2001, shortly before he turned his first squad into world champions.
But although the Brazilians have won 32 encounters to their neighbours’ 19 with a further 19 drawn, the Uruguayans did win the biggest meeting of all, their legendary 2-1 “Maracanazo” win in the 1950 World Cup final in Rio.
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said that “statistically we don’t have Brazil’s numbers” in terms of silverware but declared that “we will certainly be motivated for what is one of the great fixtures in international football. I hope we will see a fiesta of South American football.”
Skipper Diego Lugano said: “Brazil are in good form and are at home — but we can dream of beating them. Why not?”
If the hosts have plenty of attacking options, so too do the Uruguayans and Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar says much will hang on which forward line sparks to better effect.
Edinson Cavani, Diego Forlan — match winner against Nigeria with a record 34th goal for the Celeste — and Luis Suarez are the Uruguayan forwards who want to strike fear into Brazilian hearts and Julio Cesar admits: “They are very strong in attack and can decide a game on their own.