BRAZIL arrived in Johannesburg yesterday to embark on a journey they hope will take them to a record sixth World Cup title.
Usually hot pre-tournament favourites wherever the quadrennial international football showcase is staged, Brazil have been downgraded by many bookmakers to second spot behind European champions Spain.
A crisp, clear dawn in Gauteng, South Africa's economic hub, greeted the South Americans, who flew from the capital Brasilia having been given an official send-off by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Landing 12 hours after the Australian Socceroos became the first qualifiers to arrive in the country, Brazil followed the same procedure of restricted access to select television crews and photographers and no interviews.
The 23-man squad, coaches and officials boarded a brightly coloured luxury coach for a journey to a hotel in a northern suburb golf course.
The five-time world champions plan to train at a nearby school.
Brazil are with 2006 semifinalists Portugal, Didier Drogba-led Ivory Coast and tournament outsiders North Korea in Group G, labelled the "Group of Death" after the Cape Town draw last December because of its strength.
And should a Brazilian squad boasting stars such as Julio Cesar, Maicon, Kaka and Luis Fabiano match expectations and top the mini-league table, they could face fellow South American qualifiers Chile in the knockout second round.
The South Americans are no strangers to Johannesburg, having won the World Cup dress-rehearsal Confederations Cup tournament in the country last June against surprise finalists the United States.
Coach Dunga must hope he can banish the hoodoo that envelopes Confederations Cup titleholders in the subsequent World Cup.
The curse has struck Brazil twice as they finished 1998 World Cup runners-up to Zinedine Zidane-inspired hosts France, and fell to Les Bleus again four years ago, this time in the quarterfinals.
Dunga was handed one of the most stressful posts in football four years ago despite no managerial experience after Bafana Bafana coach and fellow Brazilian Carlos Alberto Parreira paid the price for the last-eight exit.
He will be under intense scrutiny, not least for refusing to include 2002 World Cup winner Ronaldinho in his squad after the AC Milan midfielder showed a revival in form. - Sapa-AFP