It's the same old story for Brazil heading into next year's World Cup finals: Everyone is aiming for the five-time champions.

The Brazilians again are favored to win soccer's biggest prize in Germany, just as they were four years ago in South Korea and Japan -- and practically every time before that.

No matter who the coach is or which players he's coaching, Brazil always is looking down at the rest of the soccer community when it's World Cup time.

"Brazil always enters the field with better players than its opponents," said Mario Zagallo, Brazil's assistant coach and a former player. "It was like that in the past, it is like that now, and it will be like that in the future. It's our differential, and it's a huge advantage."

The Brazilians have won two of the last three titles. They lost in the final in 1998 to the host French. They had chances to capture several other World Cups. Indeed, the "Selecao" finished runner-up one other time and third in two other tournaments.

The team has reached the semifinals in 10 of the 17 World Cups since the competition's inception in 1930, and is the only team to have played in all editions.

"Brazil always will be a contender, we have too many good players," said Pele, who led Brazil to titles in 1958, '62 and '70 and is considered the greatest of all the great Brazilian players.

This time, Pele's countrymen are stronger favorites than usual.

In addition to being the defending champion and ranked No. 1 by FIFA, Brazil is coming off one of its most successful seasons. The team won Copa America and the Confederations Cup, and finished first in the South American World Cup qualifying group.

Brazil will be led by European and world player of the year Ronaldinho, who will be supported by all-stars Kaka, Ronaldo, Adriano, Cafu and Roberto Carlos. All are leading contenders for this year's FIFA player of the year award, which will be announced later this month.

Brazil is so deep that standouts such as Real Madrid's Robinho and Lyon's Juninho will have to fight hard for a spot in the lineup. Some say Brazil's second stringers could contend for the title.

"It's easier when you have so many options to choose from," said Zagallo, who won the World Cup as a player in 1958 and '62 and as a coach in '70. "It's just a matter of being careful to make the right choices."

With limited space on the national team, some players have been forced to look to other nations to try to make it to the World Cup.

Last year, Brazilian striker Ailton, a star in the German Bundesliga, tried to become a citizen of Qatar. Midfielder Lincoln also considered switching nationalities so he could play for Germany, just as striker Paulo Rink did in 1998 in an attempt to play in the World Cup.

"I just want to play once for a national team, since it hasn't worked out with Brazil until now," Ailton said last year after FIFA barred his move to Qatar because he had "no clear connection to that country."

One of Portugal's top stars, Deco, was born in Brazil and grew up playing locally before adopting Portuguese citizenship. He said he made the move after realizing he would not have a chance to play on Brazil's national team.

In last year's Confederations Cup, three other teams had Brazil-born players: Mexico had Antonio Naelson, Japan had Alessandro Santos, and Tunisia had Silva dos Santos and Jose Clayton.

Still, it seems there's never a shortage of talent back home.

Every year, several Brazilian players are lured by multimillion dollar offers from European teams. Local clubs are forced to go looking for replacements, facilitating the discovery of new wonders.

"It helps to have our players in the best leagues," Zagallo said. "Not only because they get used to facing the tough European players, but also because they open up space in Brazilian clubs for other talented players to blossom."

Some of Brazil's dominance in international soccer also can be traced to its youngsters, who breathe soccer almost from the time they're born. The nation has won three under-17 world titles and four under-20 championships.

That almost guarantees a continuous flow of talent -- and more World Cups.

Ronaldinho is one of the many talented players who are on Brazil's team. Few teams can match its depth. Cafu, Brazil's team captain, raises the World Cup trophy in 2002.