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 Tuesday, August 20, 2002 20:55 EST

World Cup champs hope to give Scolari final win


FORTALEZA, Brazil -- Outgoing Brazil coach Luis Felipe Scolari is hoping to bow out of international soccer in style on Wednesday when his team takes on Paraguay, the first game since its victorious World Cup.

But Brazil's opponents are threatening to spoil the festivities in the international friendly as they look to rebuild their squad.

"We've been invited to the party and we intend to eat most of the cake," Paraguay's caretaker coach Anibal Ruiz told reporters on Monday.

Paraguay's second round defeat against Germany in the World Cup heralded the end of an era as several key players -- including right-back Francisco Arce, central defenders Carlos Gamarra and Celso Ayala and volatile goalkeeper Jose Luis Chilavert -- are into their 30s.

Chilavert, reportedly not match fit, Gamarra, who wants to concentrate on winning a first-team place at Inter Milan, and injured Bayern Munich striker Roque Santa Cruz are absent while Arce, an outstanding crosser and dead-ball specialist, has announced his international retirement.

Paraguay has already found an heir apparent for Gamarra in Julio Cesar Caceres, who last month helped his club Olimpia win the Libertadores Cup -- South America's equivalent of the Champions League.

But there are still many gaps to fill.

Ruiz, a Uruguayan who coaches the under-20 team, may be hoping that a good performance can get him the job on a permanent basis.

For Brazil, however, the biggest problem could be meeting local expectations.

Scolari, who led his team from crisis to World Cup victory in only 14 months, will bid farewell to a group of players he has often referred to as his family. Felipao (Big Phil), as he is popularly known, has decided he wants to spend more time with his own family and possibly pursue a career in Europe.

He originally picked the same 23 players who took part at the World Cup, plus midfielder Emerson Ferreira who missed the tournament after dislocating his shoulder in training, but he has since lost midfielder Juninho and defender Lucio through injury.

The team was given a hysterical reception during a training session on Monday at the Castelao stadium but past experience has shown that the cheers could turn to insults and boos if the expected goal-feast does not materialize.

Striker Ronaldo, who has not played since the World Cup final and is in the middle of a soap-opera like saga over his future with Inter Milan, admits he is out of form and unlikely to last little more than one half.

The venue for the friendly, however, will bring back fond memories for Ronaldo and Scolari as it is where their World Cup success effectively began.

It was during the March friendly against Yugoslavia that Scolari first fielded the base of the team which went on to win all seven games in South Korea and Japan.

The game was also Ronaldo's first international after his two-and-a-half years of injury misery.

Some critics claimed Scolari was being irresponsible by gambling on Ronaldo, who went on to score eight goals in the World Cup and finish as top scorer.

Teams (probable):

Brazil: Marcos; Roque Junior, Edmilson, Anderson Polga; Cafu, Gilberto Silva, Kleberson, Ronaldinho, Roberto Carlos; Ronaldo, Rivaldo.

Paraguay: Ricardo Tavarelli; Nestor Isasi, Celso Ayala, Julio Cesar Caceres, Denis Caniza; Roberto Acuna, Carlos Bonet, Carlos Humberto Paredes, Gustavo Morinigo; Jose Cardozo, Jorge Campos.

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