The death in April of Tele Santana, the master coach of the beautiful game - or 'football-art' as it is known in Portuguese - added a note of poignancy to Brazil's run up to this year's World Cup.

Never winning a world cup despite leading the 'Seleçao' to Spain and Mexico in 1982 and 1986, Santana, who died on April 21 aged 74, was a legend.

Brazil's legendary team of '82 is forever marked as the best to never win football's greatest trophy.

Zico, Socrates, Falc?o and Cerezo made up the 'magic quartet', enchanting fans across the globe although they lost to the eventual champions Italy.

Nowadays Zico is coach of the Japanese national team who will walk out against his home country in Dortmund on June 22 in the first phase of the competition. And no-one more than the Brazilians are betting against their former hero. 

Japan have already given the reigning champions a run for their money – coming within a whisker of knocking them out of last year's Confederations Cup, a competition valued far more highly in South America than in Europe.

Bogeyman

"We are not the favourites in any way"

Gilberto Gil,
Brazilian culture minister

This fact and many other omens - Brazil have not won a World Cup on European soil since 1958 , for example – are trotted out by the media as the country basks in self doubt. Even while the rest of the world places them almost out of reach.

The fear of being favourite casts a dark shadow over Brazil's preparations. No team in recent world cups have been so praised as Carlos Alberto Parreira's men – and that's the bogeyman on the country's consciousness.

Whenever they are regarded as the best – as in Santana's day - they finish also-rans.

Star Ronaldinho (C) has come a
long way since the early days

Culture minister Gilberto Gil is one such doubter. "We are not the favourites in any way," he muses. "It's an issue of the 11 who are on the field. You remember Turkey in 2002? It was hard work and if it hadn't had been for that goal by Ronaldo..."

But Brazil up until now have not a single major injury worry. In Ronaldinho Gaucho they boast by the far the best player in the world – no-one has ever won FIFA's vote by such a spectacular margin.

This year it's not a 'magic quartet' but a 'magic quintet', so much flair that all the best players simply cannot fit into one team – Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Adriano, Kaka and Robinho.

Certainty in doubt

Ronaldo takes the cup in Japan
in 2002

Author Max Gheringer has tapped into the pyschology of the Brazil side in a fascinating history following the team through five unsuccessful bids from 1930 to 1954, to their triple win, interrupted only by England, between 1958 and 1970.

That host victory by England in 1966 is a case in point.

"Never had the Brazilian team gone to a World Cup with such certainty of victory," says Gheringer. "In April 1966 the magazine Realidade (Reality) had on their cover a smiling Pele wearing a queen's guards uniform with the title 'This was how we won the triple'." The competition had yet to kick-off.

It is what Brazilian's call the 'clima de ja ganhou' – the atmosphere of 'we've won already'.

Brazil had it too in the cup of 1950 which they hosted. When they reached the final, to be played at the Maraca?a, the result was thought to be a forgone conclusion.

In fact, to this day Uruguay's 2:1 victory sits in the collective memory like an unwanted ghost.

The silence in the world's biggest football stadium after Uruguay's winning goal in front of 173,000 fans the is stuff of legend.

By contrast, their actual victories came as more a surprise, not least in the last World Cup in Japan/South Korea.

Struggle

Brazil's president is keeping up
the faith

Brazil struggled to qualify and swapped coaches just months before the competition in which they ran out winners against this year's hosts Germany.

Which makes it understandable why in the nation of carnival and happiness, in the face of all the available evidence and punditry, many are still arguing whether they'll actually make it through even their initial group matches against Japan, Croatia and Australia.

If they do, the argument goes, they'll face their nemesis in Italy or the Czech Republic in the next round.

There are worries about the defence. The daily sports paper Lance keeps up a formidable daily form-o-meter for the likely first team.

Goalkeeper Dida, who plays for Milan in Italy has being going through a crisis, as has Roberto Carlos at Real Madrid in Spain. And even the captain, Cafu, also of Milan, is publicly questioned about his age and dwindling ability, despite his extraordinary experience of playing in the final of the last three World Cups. 

He shrugs it off. "I'm always criticised," he says. "In '94 I was too young. In '98 I didn't know how to cross. In 2002 I didn't know how to mark. Now, I'm old. I want to know what they are going to say in 2010."

Up front Ronaldo has been pilloried in Spain and attacked as fat and old by French legend Michel Platini, and his young team-mate Robinho has failed to shine at the Bernabeu.  

Even Jurgen Klinsmann, coach of host nation Germany, admits that Brazil are at a level above every other team. "They have an exceptional team and a fantastic trainer," he said recently.

But Brazilians, it seems, will only believe it when they see it.