SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil's national soccer coach says the street protests planned for the World Cup could hurt his team's chances of winning the title.
Luiz Felipe Scolari added that although Brazilians have the right to complain about the government and demand improvements, the protests might not be coming at the "right time."
In an interview with Globo TV on Sunday, the coach said the protests "could, big-time" affect his players' performance. But he will not prohibit them from talking about the subject during the tournament.
Violent anti-government protests rippled across Brazil last year, with people demanding better services and questioning the billions being spent on the World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics. The protests have since diminished in size, but they are widely expected again leading to soccer's showcase 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 took place at the start of the warmup tournament. There were protests in all six host cities, although matches and teams were not directly affected, and 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 so 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 World Cup preparations.
"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. On Sunday, he said only two spots are undecided. He will announce the 23-man squad May 7. Seven possible alternates will be announced later.
Brazil will play Panama and Serbia just before the World Cup opener against Croatia on June 12.
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