SAO PAULO (AP) — It was the middle of a July summer night in Cascais, a seaside Portuguese city, when Luiz Felipe Scolari’s cell phone rang.
His first thought was one of his children might be in trouble. Instead, it was an invitation to come home.
Back to Brazil.
“I was a little scared at first,” Scolari said in August at his introduction at Palmeiras, the Sao Paulo club he led to their only South American crown in 1999. “I was talking to other national federations, but I went back to bed and could not sleep. Now I am happy to be here.”
Scolari left Brazil in 2014, in shame. He was coach of the national team when it was annihilated by Germany 7-1 that year in the World Cup semifinals, in Brazil. The coach known as Big Phil moved to China shortly after the debacle, promising to avoid Brazil for as long as possible.
Palmeiras sought the 69-year-old Scolari because it was in trouble. A team with some of the best players in South America, including winger Dudu, midfielder Lucas Lima, and Colombia striker Miguel Borja, was lagging sixth in the Brazilian championship and struggling in the Copa Libertadores.
Coach Roger Machado, who played under Scolari at Gremio in the 1990s, was fired by the same executive who called Scolari in the middle of the night. Palmeiras fans were happy with Big Phil’s return. Adversaries were happy, too; they thought the move was doomed to fail.
Scolari made Palmeiras’ defense more reliable with Luan and Gustavo Gomez. Lucas Lima, a reserve under Machado, was given more minutes. Striker Deyverson, deemed as too unstable, became a safe option when Borja was having an off day.
With 10 matches to go in the Brazilian championship, Palmeiras leads by three points, and is in the semifinals of the Copa Libertadores against Boca Juniors. Scolari and Palmeira are out of contention only in the Brazilian Cup, where they were stopped in the semifinals.
This weekend, Palmeiras plays fifth-place Gremio, Scolari’s boyhood club, a team that is also in the Copa Libertadores semifinals. The coach said: “It is probably one of the most difficult games we have until the end of the Brazilian championship.”
In other words, Scolari is right where he wants to be.
When Argentina beat Iraq 4-0 in a friendly on Thursday, striker Paulo Dybala showed he deserves to be in the national team despite his comments on how hard it is to play with Lionel Messi.
Dybala was part of the first two goals, which earned him praise from his country’s media – a rare feature since he criticized Messi. Interim coach Lionel Scaloni isn’t counting on the return of Messi until the end of his tenure, expected in January.
But Argentine media mostly agree it is inevitable that the next coach will have to find room for Messi and Dybala.
On Tuesday, Dybala and Argentina take on Brazil in another friendly in Saudi Arabia.
Oscar Tabarez started his fifth tenure as Uruguay coach with a loss to South Korea. It was the first time Tabarez lost his first match in a new cycle. He blamed physical fitness for the 2-1 defeat in Seoul.
The Uruguayans next play Japan on Tuesday in another friendly.
Argentina and Uruguay are preparing for next year’s Copa America in Brazil.
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