JOHANNESBURG - Five-time world champion Brazil is the clear favorite against Confederations Cup host country South Africa in the semifinal. The Latin American giants, however, do not take the African side lightly, and are aware that football is open to surprises, especially when playing against a highly spirited team with nothing to lose
Brazil is expecting a hard time in the Confederations Cup semifinal match against a fully motivated South Africa.
The Brazilians know they are entering tonight’s match as the favorites, but they also know they will have to be extra careful against a team that is playing at home and has nothing to lose.
"They have no responsibility to win. If they lose to Brazil it's a normal result," striker Luis Fabiano said. "And if they win it's going to be a holiday in South Africa. They have no pressure."
South Africa avoided disappointment after barely advancing from the group stage of the World Cup warm-up tournament, but now much of the pressure is off, and a victory against the five-time world champions will likely be considered a bonus instead of an obligation.
Brazil has to avoid an upset at Ellis Park to keep alive its hopes of winning its second consecutive Confederations Cup title, and possibly secure a spot in the final. South Africa is coming off a 2-0 loss to Spain, while Brazil is boosted by two consecutive 3-0 wins over the United States and world champion Italy.
"We can't think that it's going to be easier to play against South Africa because it has less tradition than Italy," Brazil left back Andre Santos said. "We can't be fooled by that, each team has its quality. Being the host country, we know they will come out playing very hard against us. We can’t underestimate anybody."
Brazil is also worried about the advantage the South Africans may have because of coach Joel Santana, a Brazilian who understands the country's football very well.
"They are motivated and they have a Brazilian coach who knows a lot about our team," Andre Santos said. "It's going to be very difficult for us."
Santana coached Dunga when the Brazilian played for Vasco da Gama in 1987, and he was in Brazil coaching Flamengo just before taking the offer to lead the South Africans at the Confederations Cup and next year's World Cup, also in South Africa.
Santana and the South African players have been saying they want to repeat the example of Egypt, which played well against Brazil in a last-minute loss in the teams' opener and then beat Italy 1-0.
"We had a tough first match but it was a different situation," Brazil captain Lucio said. "We had just arrived in South Africa. Now we are more adapted to everything here and had time to rest."
Lucio has been key for the team's defense and a great contribution for the offense, making dangerous runs from the back and threatening up front. "I think we always need to try to go forward when we can," the Brazil captain said Tuesday. "It's always important for the guys on defense to provide this support to the attack."
Lucio, known mostly for his tough marking, has had some good scoring opportunities in Brazil's first three matches.
Against Egypt, it was a shot by Lucio from inside the area that prompted the controversial late penalty kick that gave Brazil a 4-3 victory. His shot was on target when Ahmed Al Muhamadi used his arm to keep the ball from going in.
Lucio also came close in the match against Italy. After beating two defenders inside the area, his low cross was deflected by a defender and hit the far post, and then his hard shot from close range in the following play was saved by Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Lucio has had five shots on goal so far, one of them from outside the penalty area.
The defense, led by Lucio, has allowed only the three goals, all against Egypt. Two of them came in the same minute after what he called a "lack in concentration." In addition, Brazil is the only team that has yet to receive a yellow card after three Confederations Cup matches.
Lucio said the most important thing about being the team captain is to know he has the respect of his teammates. But he acknowledged that the thought of lifting trophies for Brazil is always on his mind. "I can't say I don't dream about that," he said.
Tonight, Brazil coach Dunga will not be able to count on Juan, Lucio’s main partner in the defensive line, who sustained a muscle injury in his left leg against Italy and is out of the Confederations Cup.