THE simmering expectations have, for now, cooled down for Brazil. In each of the five campaigns they’ve ended up lifting the World Cup title, never have they lost a game. Even if it was a second-string side that lost its final game to Cameroon on Friday night at the Lusail Stadium, it was out of the script. “I’ll always be remembered as the first Brazilian coach to have lost to an African side,” reflected coach Tite.
Tite’s side are hot favourites to deliver a sixth World Cup title for Brazil and end a two-decade wait for a trophy they feel belongs to them. Since the loss to Belgium in the quarter-finals four years ago in Russia, Tite has worked on organisation and defense. The key has been not to be caught out at the back. Against Cameroon, though, it was another story. Brazil had peppered the Cameroon goal with shots from almost all angles but were caught out in injury time when Vincent Aboubakar snatched a goal for the Africans.
The prevailing notion is that the defeat augurs bad luck. Even though Brazil had already sealed a spot in the last-16 with a game to spare, the confidence in Tite, among its fervent home support, has gone down a notch. It might be back up, though, if Brazil go through to the quarter-finals with victory over South Korea.
And players are focused on getting a result against the Koreans. “The focus is on the next game against South Korea and we will be prepared for it,” said midfielder Fabinho, who was one of nine changes made by Tite for their final Group ‘G’ game.
“We saw their game against Portugal today and it showed how good they are,” he added, referring to South Korea’s last-gasp victory that took them through from Group ‘H’. “But we’re confident in our strategy, our ideas, in our game. We didn’t win the game today but we played a great game we just have to keep our ideals.”
Fabinho also felt there was no loss in confidence in the Brazil ranks. “We prepared for four years to play and win this competition. It’s never good to lose games but this loss will not affect our plans.”
The showdown against South Korea will see Brazil winger Richarlison come up against his Tottenham Hotspur team-mate Son Heung Min.
“He’s a great friend of mine and has a lot of quality,” Richarlison told reporters. “We know that South Korea will be tough opponents and we expect a difficult game.”
Richarlison referred to the wholesale changes made by Tite as an attempt to give the reserves some game-time before the grueling knockouts begin. “It’s important that they are prepared for the knockouts because we will need everyone.”
Questions remain over the availability of superstar Neymar, who missed the last two group games with injury and without him Brazil seem to be missing the cutting edge in the final third. “We hope he makes it but even if he doesn’t, whoever is on the pitch will be ready to give it their all,” said Richarlison.
Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2022