Brazil under intense pressure

[CONFEDERATIONS CUP: Group A] Storylines abound in Group A at the Confederations Cup that begins Saturday when host Brazil plays Japan in Brasilia. Will the hosts win over the support of their skeptical home fans with a team missing such stars as Ronaldinho, Kaka, Ramires and Alexandre Pato? Will Japan continue the form that made it the first team to join Brazil in next year's World Cup finals? Will Mexico coach Jose Manuel de la Torre keep his job? And will Italy do better than it did four years when it collapsed in its final group match and finished behind Brazil -- and the USA?

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BRAZIL. There's no Ronaldinho, no Kaka, no Ramires and no Alexandre Pato in the Brazil squad, but Luiz Felipe Scolari, brought back to coach Brazil, believes he has a winning team with the likes Neymar, Oscar and Lucas.

"It's natural that it was difficult to make a decision, they are all great players and they all could be on this list," Felipao said. "I made the choices based on the matches we played and based on some personal criteria."

Hulk (Zenit St. Petersburg) is the only foreign-based player in the Brazil attack that features 20-year-old Bernard, Ronaldinho's teammate at Atletico Mineiro.

Brazil will be under intense pressure to not only win but win with style. It won the World Cup for the last time in 2002 with Scolari in charge, but that World Cup was played in South Korea and Japan.

The Confederations Cup, the traditional FIFA World Cup dress rehearsal, will give Brazilian fans a first glimpse of how the team has been reshaped by Scolari, brought back after Brazil failed to win the London Olympics under Mano Menezes.

Brazil Roster:
Goalkeepers: Julio Cesar (Queens Park Rangers), Diego Cavalieri (Fluminense), Jefferson (Botafogo)
Defenders: Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Jean (Fluminense), Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid), Marcelo (Real Madrid), David Luiz (Chelsea), Rever (Atletico Mineiro), Dante (Bayern Munich), Thiago Silva (Paris St. Germain)
Midfielders: Paulinho (Corinthians), Fernando (Gremio), Luiz Gustavo (Bayern Munich), Hernanes (Lazio), Oscar (Chelsea), Lucas (Paris St. Germain), Jadson (Sao Paulo)
Forwards: Neymar (Santos), Fred (Fluminense), Hulk (Zenit St. Petersburg), Leandro Damiao (Internacional), Bernard (Atletico Mineiro)

JAPAN. Japan, the first team to qualify for the World Cup, will be led by Keisuke Honda, whose goal in stoppage time allowed Japan to draw 1-1 with Australia and qualify for the World Cup for the fifth straight time, and Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa.

Japan has never beaten Brazil in nine matches but hopes to duplicate its performance of 12 years ago when it finished second to France at the Confederations Cup.

"The Confederations Cup will be a great place to find out where we are in the pecking order of world soccer," Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni said.

Japan Roster:
Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Standard Liege), Shusaku Nishikawa (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Shuichi Gonda (FC Tokyo).
Defenders: Yasuyuki Konno (Gamba Osaka), Yuzo Kurihara (Yokohama F Marinos), Masahiko Inoha (Jubilo Iwata), Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Hiroki Sakai (Hannover), Gotoku Sakai (Stuttgart).
Midfielders: Yasuhito Endo (Gamba), Kengo Nakamura (Kawasaki Frontale), Makoto Hasebe (Wolfsburg), Hajime Hosogai (Hertha Berlin), Keisuke Honda (CSKA Moscow), Hideto Takahashi (FC Tokyo).
Forwards: Ryoichi Maeda (Jubilo), Shinji Okazaki (Stuttgart), Mike Havenaar (Vitesse Arnhem), Takashi Inui (Eintracht Frankfurt), Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Nuremberg).

MEXICO. Will this be Jose Manuel de la Torre's last stand? Chepo probably only survived after Tuesday's dreadful 0-0 tie at Azteca Stadium -- Mexico's third straight scoreless draw at home -- because it was headed off to Brazil for the Confederations Cup.

But an early exit in what is Mexico's sixth appearance in the Confederations Cup -- only Brazil, making its seventh appearance, has played more -- could spell doom for de la Torre with another tournament on the horizon: the Gold Cup in July.

The great fear is that Mexico's suffers from the "maldición De la Torre." Chepo's uncle, Javier de la Torre, coached the national team in the early 1970s, and it failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup -- behind Haiti -- in one of the Tri's great debacles.

But as Mexico got down to work Thursday at the San Januario Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Chepo tried to keep the mood positive, holding an open practice and organizing a game of soccer-tennis for his players.

"We are not happy, like the fans, but we're working," said Hector Gonzalez Inarritu, head of the Mexican national teams program told ESPN Mexico. "De la Torre knows what to change and how to motivate the players. I am an admirer of his and am in favor of continuity. Chepo has all our support."

Famous last words?

Mexico Roster:
Goalkeepers: Guillermo Ochoa (Ajaccio), Jesus Corona (Cruz Azul), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca)
Defenders: Hiram Mier (Monterrey), Carlos Salcido (Tigres), Jorge Torres Nilo (Tigres), Francisco Rodriguez (Club America), Diego Reyes (Club America), Hector Moreno (Espanyol), Severo Meza (Monterrey)
Midfielders: Gerardo Torrado (Cruz Azul), Pablo Barrera (Cruz Azul), Jesus Zavala (Monterrey), Jesus Molina (Club America), Hector Herrera (Pachuca), Javier Aquino (Villarreal), Andres Guardado (Valencia), Angel Reyna (Pachuca)
Forwards: Javier Hernandez (Manchester United), Giovani Dos Santos (Mallorca), Oribe Peralta (Santos Laguna), Raul Jimenez (Club America), Aldo De Nigris (Monterrey).

ITALY. It's been 57 years since the Azzurri last traveled to Brazil.  They hold a comfortable lead in Europe's Group B, so they should return next year as well.

The Italian attack features young AC Milan stars Mario Balotelli, 22, and Stephan El Shaarawy, 20, though they didn't exactly light things up in the recent 0-0 tie at the Czech Republic. El Shaarawy was subbed at halftime, and Balotelli was sent off for picking up two yellow cards.

A nucleus of players -- goalie Gianluigi Buffon, defender Giorgio Chiellini and midfielder Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Pirlo -- return from the team that was eliminated in the group stage of the Confederations Cup four years ago behind eventual champion Brazil and the runner-up USA.

Italy Roster:
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Federico Marchetti (Lazio), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris St. Germain).
Defenders: Ignazio Abate (AC Milan), Davide Astori (Cagliari), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Mattia De Sciglio (AC Milan), Christian Maggio (Napoli).
Midfielders: Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina), Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Alessio Cerci (Torino), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Emanuele Giaccherini (Juventus), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Riccardo Montolivo (AC Milan), Andrea Pirlo (Juventus).
Forwards: Mario Balotelli (AC Milan), Stephan El Shaarawy (AC Milan), Alessandro Diamanti (Bologna), Alberto Gilardino (Bologna), Sebastian Giovinco (Juventus).
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