Brazil embraces former foe Felipao
SAO PAULO, Brazil (Reuters) -- If God is indeed Brazilian, as the five-time world soccer champions of Brazil like to claim, then national coach Luiz Felipe Scolari is his new prophet.
Scolari descended from the Brazilian skies Tuesday in a Boeing and, once on the ground in Brasilia, leaned out the cockpit window next to the team captain, Cafu, to unfurl the country's yellow and green flag for a legion of fans.
For many, Felipao (Big Phil) had performed a miracle by transforming a mediocre team, winning him the sacred place at the front of the World Cup homecoming plane normally reserved for a player.
"I never imagined he could win this Cup because the team was in bad shape," said Evaneldo da Silva, who works in a Sao Paulo cafe. "But he knows how to put together a team."
What a difference a month has made for the much maligned Felipao, a stubborn man from the deep south who took his share of blows from the country's 170 million people, each considering him or herself a soccer coach.
He was roughed up by fans, his car was kicked and his son took a ribbing from schoolmates who wanted Felipao to take on Romario, the legendary scorer with past discipline problems.
Felipao turned the other cheek and went about building up the "Scolari family," his model of a united and obedient team guided by a stern but loving father.
And like a father, he suffered on the sidelines in South Korea and Japan -- cringing, screaming, rejoicing and finally crying when his boys beat Germany in the final for a 7-0 record in the World Cup. Choked by emotion, he told his real son on TV Sunday, "We have the fifth one."
PLEASE STAY, THEY SAY
Felipao, 53, took over the team 13 months ago with the task of rebuilding a team broken by embarrassing losses to minnow soccer nations like Honduras, three changes in coaches and a congressional investigation into corruption in soccer.
Fans and media complained about Felipao's rough tactics -- he told his teams publicly to foul the opposition -- in a country where the "Beautiful Game" is supposed to be won with elegant dribbling and shooting finesse.
They scorned his slow and methodical tests as he tried out 58 players, many of them unknown to the public, for 23 slots. He only clinched a place in the Cup in the last qualifying match.
"They hardly managed to qualify so few people liked and believed in him," said Rio de Janeiro security guard Valdecir Pedro da Silva. "Now Brazil takes its hat off to Felipao and all his critics are praising him."
They are also begging him to stay.
A survey published in daily Folha de S. Paulo Tuesday showed that 90 percent of Sao Paulo residents want Felipao to continue at the helm with the Scolari tradition in place.
Felipao's contract with the Brazilian Soccer Confederation expires with the homecoming and he has said he would want to try his luck at a club in Europe or even with another national team.
He will also write a book, where he can impart lessons like the one he gave to Brazil on victory day, three months ahead of presidential elections.
"I am not a candidate in any race, but I tell the Brazilian population that they should always remember this image of unity to improve Brazil," he said. "We can achieve what we want if we do things in an orderly way."
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