Paulinho has fun play­ing straight man to Coutinho

Brazil get into the groove

Daily Mail - - Sports - MATT BAR­LOW in the Brazil camp, Sochi

WITH sun­shine and clear blue skies over a glis­ten­ing sea and with im­pa­tient driv­ers on wind­ing roads, this could be a tiny patch of Brazil nestling in the hills above the Black Sea.

True, there is a lack of sand be­cause the beach is rocky, the nat­u­ral won­ders are a lit­tle less strik­ing and Rus­sia’s seaside vibe in­volves a sur­real blend of de­signer bus­tle and house mu­sic, rather than the lazy swing of Ipanema. Yet Brazil coach Tite’s squad have slipped smoothly into their camp above Sochi to fo­cus on Sun­day’s opener against Switzer­land — their first mean­ing­ful fix­ture in the World Cup fi­nals since the 7-1 hu­mil­i­a­tion at the hands of Ger­many in 2014.

Four years on and a pleas­ing, sub-trop­i­cal cli­mate comes with­out the sti­fling weight of ex­pec­ta­tion they suf­fered as the host na­tion. Ex­perts con­sider this to be Brazil’s best team since they last con­quered the world in 2002.

Tite is a pop­u­lar boss with the trust of his play­ers and there were few fit­ness is­sues, de­spite not man­ag­ing to get all 23 of the squad out to train on the same day.

Brazil trained yes­ter­day with­out Fred, set to be­come a Manch­ester United mid­fielder af­ter the tour­na­ment with a £57mil­lion fee agreed with Shakhtar Donetsk.

He worked alone on the grass en­cir­cled by a nearby ath­let­ics track. Twist­ing and turn­ing and punch­ing vol­leys back to the coaches, he does not seem far away from fit­ness.

Ney­mar was all smiles, fool­ing around with Philippe Coutinho. He was full of tricks and flicks on the ball as play­ers went through their warm-up rou­tine at the Yug Sport Sta­dium, while dozens of TV re­porters filed live up­dates from the touch­line.

‘The pres­sure on Brazil will al­ways be there,’ said mid­fielder Paulinho. ‘It was there for the last World Cup. We were un­der pres­sure but what we did in the last four years was to leave the past be­hind us.

‘We lost and this is an­other chance. We have an op­por­tu­nity to be bet­ter.

‘We know how dif­fi­cult it’s go­ing to be. Op­po­nents are watch­ing us be­cause we are play­ing con­sis­tent foot­ball. Most im­por­tant, we are play­ing a happy kind of foot­ball. We have to play like that. Happy. We do what we love.

‘We are on the right track and fo­cused on a hav­ing a won­der­ful World Cup.

Like Brazil, foot­ball’s wheel of for­tune has turned for Paulinho.

A £17m club-record flop at Tottenham four years ago and soon to be frozen out by man­ager Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino, his con­fi­dence was shat­tered be­fore he gam­bled on a risky es­cape to Guangzhou Ever­grande in China.

‘My main ob­jec­tive was to play,’ said the 29- year- old. ‘ I wasn’t play­ing and I had to move on if I was to play any part in the fu­ture for Brazil. I knew I had to leave Tottenham. ‘China opened its doors for me to re­gain my con­fi­dence and I’ll al­ways have a very spe­cial feel­ing for the coun­try. I be­came con­fi­dent again, played at a high level and re­turned to the Brazil squad — my big­gest dream.’ He was helped when Brazil ap­pointed Tite, Paulinho’s men­tor dur­ing a suc­cess­ful time to­gether at Corinthi­ans. Tite sent his son Matheus, also part of the back­room team, to check on Paulinho’s form and is­sued a re­call af­ter pos­i­tive feed­back.

Paulinho will start in mid­field, asked to cur­tail his at­tack­ing in­stincts to of­fer bal­ance and al­low Barcelona team-mate Coutinho free­dom to at­tack.

‘No prob­lem,’ said Paulinho. ‘All I want to do is help the team. The man­ager will pick the team but, for me, Philippe Coutinho — he rocks.’

There is a quiet con­fi­dence in the camp, en­hanced by news of up­heaval at Spain’s base in Krasnodar.

Brazil view the Span­ish as among their main chal­lengers for the ti­tle.

‘I pre­fer not to stick my fin­ger into the fact they no longer have their trainer,’ said Paulinho. ‘But Spain are one of the favourites. They have won­der­ful play­ers.’

Pressed for his other ‘ favourites’ he added Ger­many, France, Bel­gium and Ar­gentina and his au­di­ence nod­ded in un­der­stand­ing.

There is lit­tle con­cern about Eng­land in this green and pleas­ant corner of Rus­sia but not much is trou­bling the Brazil­ians, apart from the fact there is only one loo for more than 300 jour­nal­ists — and they were rep­ri­manded for lit­ter­ing the me­dia tent with empty plas­tic bot­tles.

EPA

All smiles: Paulinho says Brazil play happy foot­ball

GETTY IMAGES

Jug­gler: Coutinho in ac­tion

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