With clear blue skies and glorious sunshine over a glistening sea and with impatient drivers on winding roads it could easily be a tiny patch of Brazil nestling in the verdant hills above the Black Sea.
True, there is a distinct absence of sand because the beach is rocky, the natural wonders are a little less striking and Russia‘s seaside vibe involves a surreal blend of designer bustle and hardcore house music rather than the lazy swing of Ipanema.
Yet Tite’s squad have slipped smoothly into their camp above Sochi to focus on Sunday’s opener against Switzerland, their first fixture in the World Cup finals since the seven-goal humiliation at the hands of Germany.
Brazil are continuing their preparations to win a record sixth World Cup this summer
The South American side trained at their World Cup base in Sochi on Wednesday
The five-time winners are among the favourites at this year’s showpiece – held in Russia
Brazil coach Tite has done a brilliant job since taking charge of his country in June 2016
Four years on and a pleasing sub-tropical climate comes without the stifling weight of expectation they suffered as the host nation and experts consider this to be Brazil’s best team since they last conquered the world in 2002.
Tite is a popular boss with the trust of his players and there were few fitness issues despite not managing to get all 23 of the squad out to train on the same day.
Brazil trained on Wednesday without Fred, set to become a Manchester United midfielder after the tournament with a £52million fee agreed with Shakhtar Donetsk.
Fred worked alone on the grass encircled by a nearby athletics track. Twisting and turning and punching volleys back to the coaches he does not seem far away.
Neymar was all smiles, fooling around with Philippe Coutinho, full of tricks and flicks on the ball as the players went through their warm-up routine at the Yug Sport Stadium as dozens of TV reporters filed live updates from the touchline.
Fred trained alone from the Brazil squad as he continues his recovery from an ankle injury
The midfielder is set to join Manchester United in a £52million deal after the World Cup
A lot of expectation will be on Neymar’s (centre) shoulders with the forward their talisman
Philippe Coutinho (centre) will also be expected to pull the strings from a deeper role in Russia
Neymar shares a joke with team-mate Paulinho during Wednesday’s training session
‘The pressure on Brazil will always be there,’ said Paulinho. ‘It was there for the last World Cup. We were under pressure. But what we did in the last four years was to leave the past behind us. We lost and this is another chance. We have an opportunity to be better.
‘We know how difficult it’s going to be. Opponents are watching us because we are playing consistent football. Most important, we are playing a happy kind of football. We have to play like that. Happy. We do what we love.
‘We are on the right track and we are focused on a having a wonderful World Cup.’
Like Brazil, football’s wheel of fortune has turned for Paulinho who was a £17m club record flop at Tottenham four years ago and soon to be frozen out by Mauricio Pochettino with confidence shattered before gambling on a risky escape route to Guangzhou Evergrande in China.
‘My main objective was to play,’ said the 29-year-old. ‘I knew I was moving further away but I wasn’t playing and I had to move on if i was to play any part in the future for Brazil. I knew I had to leave Tottenham when I wasn’t being used.
‘China opened its doors for me to regain my confidence in football and I will always have a very special feeling for the country. It was there I became confident again, played at a high level and returned to the Brazil squad which was my biggest dream.’
Paulinho has come a long way from the player who was frozen out at Tottenham in 2015
A move to China, earned him a Brazil recall and a subsequent move to Spanish side Barcelona
His cause was boosted when Brazil appointed Tite who had been Paulinho’s mentor during a successful time together at Corinthians.
Tite sent son Matheus, who is also part of his backroom team, to check on his form and issued a recall after positive feedback.
Paulinho will start in Brazil’s midfield, although asked to curtail his attacking instincts to offer balance and allow his Barcelona team-mate Coutinho the freedom to attack.
‘This is no problem,’ said Paulinho. ‘All I want to do is help the team. The manager will pick the team but, for me, Philippe Coutinho, he rocks.’
There is a quiet confidence in the camp, enhanced by news of upheaval filtering down the coast from Spain’s team base in Krasnodar.
Now a key component for club and country, the 29-year-old is back smiling on and off the pitch
Brazil view the Spanish among their main challengers for the title.
‘I prefer not to stick my finger into the fact they no longer have their trainer,’ said Paulinho. ‘But Spain are one of the favourites. They have wonderful players, at a high level.’
Pressed for his other ‘favourites’ he added Germany, France, Belgium and Argentina and his audience nodded in understanding.
There is little concern about England in this green and pleasant corner of Russia but nothing much is troubling the Brazilians, apart from the fact there is only one toilet for more than 300 journalists and they were reprimanded for littering the media tent with empty plastic bottles.
Author: Nancy Parker
Nancy Parker is a five time Emmy Award winning journalist and seven time Emmy nominee who has spent almost twenty five years covering news in South Louisiana. She has anchored every prime time newscast at WVUE FOX8 during her twenty year tenure in New Orleans.