SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari is worried the street protests that are planned during the World Cup could hurt his team’s chances of winning the title.
Scolari says that although Brazilians have the right to complain about the government and demand improvements, perhaps the protests won’t be coming at the “right time.”
He said the protests “could, big-time” affect his players’ performance during the World Cup, although he will not prohibit them from talking about the subject during the tournament.
In an interview with Globo TV late Sunday, Scolari also said Brazil should have done a better job in its preparations for the World Cup, and said he has already made up his mind on 21 of the 23 players of his squad.
Violent anti-government protests erupted across Brazil last year as people took to the streets calling for better services and questioning the billions being spent on hosting the World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics. The protests have since diminished in size, but they are widely expected again in the run-up to this year’s football tournament.
“I think the protests can happen,” Scolari said. “If they are peaceful, then that’s democracy. Everyone has the right to protest. But I don’t know if it’s the right time.”
The coach had already tried to distance the national team from the protests during last year’s Confederations Cup, when the largest public demonstrations in a generation broke out at the start of the warm-up tournament. Protests happened in all six host cities at the time, although matches and teams were not directly affected as Brazil went on to win the title.
The players openly talked about the protests last year and the coach said they will be allowed to do it again during the World Cup.
“They are national team players and they are on a mission,” he said. “They can express themselves and say ‘look, I also want a better Brazil,‘ but I don’t want it to be something that causes problems to our environment.”
Scolari also criticized Brazil’s preparations for the World Cup, saying that the country wasted time and should have done more to get things ready more quickly.
“We could have done a better job to take advantage of these seven years that we had to prepare everything that was going to be needed, from airports to roads to education,” he said. “But we lost time and we now we are out of time.”
Scolari last week confirmed nine players who will make Brazil’s squad — David Luiz, Oscar, Ramires, Willian, Paulinho, Julio Cesar, Thiago Silva, Fred and Neymar — and on Sunday he said there are only two spots remaining in the team.
“We are still making observations, there are a lot of things we are still looking at,” he said.
Scolari will announce the official 23-man squad on May 7. Seven possible alternates will be announced later.
Brazil will play friendlies against Panama and Serbia just before the World Cup opener against Croatia on June 12.
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