Brazil need more than just Neymar

Brazil need more than just Neymar
Brazil's Oscar (L) and Ramires celebrate during the 2014 World Cup opening match between Brazil and Croatia at the Corinthians arena.

SAO PAULO - Even Mother Nature appears to be conspiring against Brazil. The residents of World Cup city Natal have been left soaked and shell shocked after a month's worth of rain was dumped on their city in the last two days.

An entire favela vanished. Homes were swept away and lives ruined. Fortunately, no lives were lost, but this is the last thing Brazilians need right now. The proud, resilient country has been beating its Selecao chest in defiance of global critics, street protests and a nagging suspicion that the national side might be a player or two short of World Cup glory.

But the storm clouds refuse to dissipate.

Now they have blown away a Natal village.

The fortunes of Luiz Felipe Scolari's men in Group A have never been more important to their defiant people.

Anything other than victory against Mexico tomorrow morning (Singapore time) and a safe passage to the knockout stages is unthinkable.

The hosts need this. Green and gold streamers flutter from every cafe, petrol station and sidestreet.

Every vehicle is adorned with Brazilian paraphernalia. Peeling face paint appears to be stuck permanently to the cheeks of men and boys.

Hope cannot be washed away. Floods, Fifa and political protestors cannot erase a hosting dream more than half a century in the making.

Only the footballers can. If the mood here in Sao Paulo is fiercely nationalistic towards its World Cup hosting, it is only cautiously optimistic towards the home team.

Neymar, Oscar and some dreadfully inept officiating carried the team against Croatia in a 3-1 win. But the Brazilians didn't really fire in the tournament's curtain raiser.

They need alternative fuel sources against Mexico. The clash is being held in Fortaleza, a city famous for its sand dunes, and the Selecao must raise their game to avoid sinking against impressive striker Giovani dos Santos.

If Wayne Rooney occupies England's thoughts, Brazil's defensive fragility dominates attention.

Julio Cesar's ring rustiness betrayed a season spent with the lesser lights of Queens Park Rangers and Toronto. The road to Rio does not typically feature pit-stops at the MLS and Loftus Road.

At left back, Marcelo looked more like Marcel Marceau. His performance veered towards the cartoonish against Croatia. Not only was he culpable for the goal, he struggled to get forward often enough to assist the overworked Oscar and Neymar.

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