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Players barred by Euro clubs

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- Four members of Brazil's
squad were absent, apparently banned from traveling by their
European clubs, as the team assembled Tuesday for this week's
friendly against Panama, team sources said.

Barcelona striker Rivaldo, Parma fullback Junior, Bayern
Munich striker Elber and Bayer Leverkusen's Lucio all failed to
turn up at Curitiba airport, in southern Brazil, for the team's
rendezvous Tuesday morning.

Their absence appears to be the latest round in the
increasingly bitter tug of war between South American national
teams and European clubs.

Barcelona said earlier it had the
"appropriate permission" to field Rivaldo in Wednesday's
Champions League match in Poland.

Brazilian media said the other three missing players had
also been withheld by their clubs.

The two German clubs also refused to release Lucio and Elber
for July's Copa America in Colombia, which went ahead at six
days' notice after earlier being postponed until 2002.

Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) officials did not
immediately comment on whether they would press ahead with an
earlier threat to complain to FIFA about any clubs refusing to
release players.

Brazil is using Thursday's match against the unrated
Panamanians as a warm-up for the key World Cup qualifier at home
to Paraguay on Aug. 15.

FIFA rules oblige clubs to release players five days in
advance of international matches but Brazil say that if two
games are played within eight days, the players do not have to
return to their clubs in between.

Brazil admitted it arranged the friendly with this rule in
mind to give coach Luiz Felipe Scolari more time to train his
squad.

Scolari, who took over in June, is desperate for a chance to
train his team before the Paraguay game in Porto Alegre, where
Brazil need a win to get their World Cup qualifying season back on track.

Brazil is fourth in the South American group, ahead of
Uruguay only on goal difference. The top four teams qualify for
the finals in Japan and South Korea, while the fifth plays off
against Oceania winners Australia for another place.

Veteran striker Romario has provided another headache for
Scolari, ironically because he scored four goals for his club
Vasco da Gama in a Brazilian championship game at the weekend.

Scolari left Romario out of the squad, allegedly because he
is off-form, and Sunday's goals have led to inevitable criticism
of the coach's decision.

"I'm always ready to help the national team, independent of
the situation," said the 35-year-old during a television
interview in Rio de Janeiro.

Romario remembered the qualifying campaign for the 1994
World Cup, when he was axed for nearly one year before coming
back in the final match against Uruguay.

He responded by scoring the two goals which took Brazil to
the United States, where his five goals helped bring a fourth
world title.

"I'm a player who brings luck," he said.

"They always put me in the team at the right moment and I'm
sure this will happen again. Big Phil (Scolari) should keep his
eye on the championship because I'm coming back."