New Zealand are Brazil's latest sparring partners
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 12: New Zealand will follow in the footsteps of Malaysia and Andorra next month when they take on the role of Brazil's World Cup sparring partners.
Brazil warmed up for the 1998 World Cup by beating Andorra 3-0 at a fourth division ground in a run-down Paris suburb.
Their final match before the successful 2002 campaign was in the more glamorous surroundings of Kuala Lumpur's ultra-modern Bukit Jalil stadium but the game was similarly untesting as they ran out 4-0 winners.
This time they face New Zealand in Geneva, their first meeting since the 1999 Confederations Cup when Brazil won 2-0.
New Zealand are understandably delighted, describing it as a ''dream date.'' Brazilians, however, are wondering why their confederation has been unable to arrange more demanding matches.
Brazil guaranteed their place in Germany by thumping Chile 5-0 last September. Since then, their games have either been in farcical conditions or against vastly inferior opponents.
In both cases, they have proved utterly futile in helping coach Carlos Alberto Parreira build his World Cup team.
Brazil have played Bolivia at 3,600 metres above sea level and Russia in sub-zero temperatures on an almost unplayable pitch in the Moscow winter.
In between, they trounced the United Arab Emirates 8-0 and strolled to a 3-0 home win over Venezuela in their last qualifier.
A match against a Kuwait Select XI in November was embarrassingly cancelled when FIFA said European clubs were not obliged to release their Brazilian players as it was not a full international.
The consolation is that Parreira has already decided on his team.
MAGIC QUARTET Last week, he boldly announced his line-up for the opening game against Croatia on June 13, including the so-called Magic Quartet of Kaka, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Adriano.
In fact, Parreira has been remarkably laid-back about the whole situation, dividing his time between watching matches in Europe and giving lectures in Brazil.