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Are Brazil's Samba Boys Falling From Grace?

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Lackluster, inconsistent play in a recent 1-0 friendly win over South Africa and an 8-0 romp over a hapless Chinese squad reminded fans why Brazil's bi-polar national team has fallen out of the FIFA-Coca-Cola top ten rankings holding the #12 spot below Greece and Croatia.

The only goal in the South Africa match was scored by Hulk, the 28 year old striker who was recently transferred by FC Porto to Zenit St. Petersburg for a reported 39.5 million Pounds. The transfer fee was the highest for a Brazilian-born player since Real Madrid paid Milan 65 million Euros for Kaka (real name Ricardo Izecson) in 2007. But while the injury prone Kaka watched his market value slide to 30 million Euros when the transfer window closed the younger, more mobile Hulk is destined to hold his value as a force on one of Russia's marquee teams.

"If the fans had supported us we would have scored more," Hulk (real name Givanildo Veira) said, blaming fans for the poor team performance in a post-game interview buzzed up at Goal.com.

But the recently capped Hulk, who has spent the past decade pleasing fans outside Brazil on teams in Japan and Portugal and recently served a three month suspenion from Porto for fighting, has more to do with what's wrong with Brazilian futebol.

For decades Ricardo Teixeira and his Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) have generated big money running a feeder system that has exported Brazil's best young players to top Premier League and European teams. At times some of these stars have shined for the national team, but none have brought a World Cup to Brazil for over a decade. Meanwhile, money laundering trails and promotional considerations linked to the CBF, including a posh executive jet used by Teixeira and a luxury South Florida getaway pad, caught the eye of Interpol, Brazil's Policia Federal and the international sports press.

To avoid prosecution Teixeira resigned in March from the board of FIFA, the presidency of the CBF and from the FIFA Brazil Organizing Committee. Now his legacy is haunting the Samba Boys as they dance toward the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Fans, politicians and sports bloggers questioned team spirit and c0aching after underdog Mexico defeated Brazil 2-1 for the Olympic gold in London last month and the critics aren't going away.

Former World Cup hero Romario, now a federal deputy who advocates more transparency in futebol, has been particularly outspoken, calling national team coach Mano Manezes "an imbecile" in the Brazilian press, suggesting that Manezes capped Hulk for the Olympics to showcase him and increase his market value prior to the big transfer to Zenit, which is owned by energy giant Gazprom. Romario has also charged that Teixeira continues to wield considerable power inside the CBF.

In fact, the CBF reinstated Teixeira as "honorary president" shortly after electing his 79-year old ally Jose Marin as titular head of the organization. The organization has countered Romario and other critics by giving a vote of confidence to coach Manezes, who was approved for the job after the Samba Boys crashed out of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa by none other than Teixeira himself.

But as the road to the World Cup finals gets tougher the unimaginative Manezes won't be able to rely on hat trick performances like the one by Neymar against a weak China team to save his reputation. The BBC has already buzzed up the name of former Chelsea coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, now at Palmeiras in Sao Paulo, the last man to coach a Brazil team to a World Cup victory back in 2002 as a possible replacement. Santos coach Muricy Ramalho, a "players coach" who has helped make Neymar a world-class striker, has also been mentioned as candidate to replace Manezes.

FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke of France just visited Brazil and said that work on stadiums and other infrastructure required to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup is now moving along nicely. But the big question is whether Brazil can put together a team capable of winning the 2014 FIFA World Cup at home and with Teixeira and his cronies still on the scene. Most of Brail's top stars are products of Teixeira's feeder system and are contracted to teams abroad, requiring complicated negotiations between the CBF and the teams to get players released for World Cup matches. Current World Cup holder Spain won in South Africa with only a few players contracted to clubs outside their homeland avoided that problem. Dinheiro, a Brazilian financial magazine, reports that foreign football clubs have paid over 1 billion Pounds over the past decade for top Brazilian talent, creating a dual loyalty situation where players must balance commitments to their club and playing for the national side .

In a recent media teleconference with Brazil Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo (in which this writer participated) Matt Scott of the Daily Telegraph asked Rebelo if Brazil has the mettle to replace the much-criticized Teixeira with somebody who has an internationally-respected profile. Rebelo,without mentioning Teixeira or the CBF by name, suggested meekly that term limits might offer a solution.