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Brazil links setbacks to greater respect from foes

AP - Sports
Brazil links setbacks to greater respect from foes
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TERESOPOLIS, Brazil (AP) -- Goalkeeper Julio Cesar thinks Brazil's initial World Cup difficulties are a consequence of the team's convincing victory at last year's Confederations Cup.

The win in the warm-up tournament for the World Cup marked Brazil's reawakening after a series of disappointing results, but it also made the five-time world champions a bigger target.

''Because of how we won the Confederations Cup, teams started paying more attention to us,'' Cesar said. ''Teams are respecting Brazil now, everybody comes playing on defense because they are more aware of what we can do.''

Brazil lifted the Confederations Cup trophy after five straight wins, culminating with victory over defending champion Spain in the final at the Maracana Stadium.

''I think the other teams are studying more how we play and that makes it a bit more difficult,'' Brazil left back Marcelo said Friday.

Brazil had a comeback 3-1 win over Croatia the World Cup opener, taking the lead on a contentious penalty, before being held to a 0-0 draw by Mexico in its second match. It needs at least a draw against Cameroon on Monday to advance to the second round - a win will likely guarantee that it moves on in first place in Group A.

''These first matches were different, but we know that fans will always want to see that team from the Confederations Cup,'' Cesar said.

Brazil was 22nd in FIFA's rankings before the warm-up tournament last year, its lowest position ever. But it won 15 of 16 matches going into the World Cup and began the tournament as the third-ranked team in the world.

''Things changed at the Confederations Cup, we gained an identity,'' Cesar said. ''Everybody saw what happened in that tournament, coaches started to respect the Selecao.''

Brazil was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the last two World Cups and continued to struggle when coach Mano Menezes took over the national team after the 2010 tournament in South Africa. It failed to win titles and played poorly against traditional rivals, prompting the federation to hire Luiz Felipe Scolari as his replacement in the beginning of 2012.

Scolari, who led Brazil to the 2002 world title, was able to put the team on track just before the Confederations Cup, and it continued to play well up until the World Cup.

''We will keep trying to improve so in the end we can give this title to the fans,'' Cesar said.

Brazil is a three-time champion in the Confederations Cup, but winners in the warm-up tournament have never won the World Cup the following year.

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