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Brazil's Big Phil facing moment of truth

© Reuters Limited 2001

By Brian Homewood

RIO DE JANEIRO, July 31 (Reuters) - Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari says next month's World Cup qualifier against Paraguay is the most important of his career.

Brazil are in danger of losing their proud record as the only country ever to have played at every World Cup, and the man known as Big Phil clearly realises that, with five matches to go and his side fading fast, his head is on the block.

"This is the first time the national team has been in this bad situation and, although I have had other important moments with club teams, this is the most important game of my life and my career," Scolari said on Tuesday. "I don't want to be the coach who missed the cup."

Scolari is the fourth coach of Brazil's World Cup qualifying campaign - including Candinho who was caretaker for one game - but knows he won't be remembered for the right reasons if the four-times champions are forced to stay at home next year.

Brazil are fourth in the group, from which the top four qualify and the fifth gets another chance in a play-off against Oceania winners Australia.

But recent defeats to Ecuador, Uruguay, Australia and Honduras have shown that Brazil are declining rather than on the way up.

The game against Paraguay on August 15 is the first of Brazil's remaining three home matches and Scolari knows it is imperative to pick up three points.

The Brazilians are ahead of fifth-placed Uruguay only on goal difference and are two points ahead of sixth-placed Colombia. Uruguay's next match is away to minnows Venezuela while Colombia are expected to pick up three points from their game at home to Peru.

"I don't care how badly we play against Paraguay as long as we win," Scolari said. "I know this will offend lots of my critics but we have to win the game."

He then remembered Carlos Alberto Parreira who led Brazil to World Cup victory seven years ago despite a chorus of criticism over the way his team played.

"He had his methods and he stuck with them and won the title even though everyone was saying the team was defensive and playing ugly football," Scolari said.

Sucking Lemons
Scolari, who as a club coach publicly encouraged his players to commit more fouls, has been in charge for five games, which have yielded three defeats and two victories. Last week, Brazil were sensationally knocked out of the Copa America after losing to Honduras.

The coach, never afraid to speak his mind, ended a tense news conference by lambasting his critics.

"It's very easy to talk. But with some of these people, it seems that they suck a lemon first thing in the morning and the taste stays in their mouth for the rest of the day."

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