In 2014 Brazil were beaten 7-1 by Germany in the semi-final.
RIO DE JANEIRO : The wounds inflicted by the worst defeat in Brazil’s proud football history began healing on July 29, 2014. It was three weeks after Brazil’s apocalyptic 7-1 defeat to Germany in the World Cup semi-finals and seven days after 1994 World Cup-winning captain Dunga was named national team coach for a second time.
It was also the day that Adenor Leonardo Bacchi decided to stop crying and start fighting. “After the 7-1 defeat, I really believed I would have a good chance to be the next coach of the Brazilian team,” Bacchi, better known as Tite, wrote in the Players’ Tribune in May.
“I thought it might be my turn. When I was not selected for the job, I’ll be honest… I was frustrated, angry, very sad. However, at that moment, I thought of my mother. She was a fighter. Whenever our family struggled, she worked even harder.
“She sewed until her hands couldn’t move so that whenever I wanted a soda, the soda would appear like magic. Her example was my inspiration. For a week after that decision (Dunga’s appointment), I cried. After that, I started the fight,” added Bacchi.
That fight began with Tite, who was taking a sabbatical year and laying out plans for his return to football. The first step saw him travel to Europe to learn from some of the game’s top coaches, including Arsene Wenger and Carlo Ancelotti. He returned to Brazil in December 2014 and immediately accepted an offer to coach Corinthians for a third time. Eleven months later he steered the Sao Paulo club to the Brazilian Serie A title. Tite remained in the role until June 2016, when he was finally named coach of Brazil, replacing Dunga after the team’s group-stage elimination
from the Copa America. At the time of his appointment, Brazil were languishing in sixth place in the South American zone qualifying standings for the 2018 World Cup.
The transformation was almost instant. Brazil proceeded to win nine consecutive competitive matches. In the meantime, they became the first team to qualify for Russia other than the hosts and reclaimed the world No. 1 ranking for the first time in seven years.
“I had the impression that things happen for a reason,” Tite said. “When I was not called to be the coach of the Brazilian team in 2014, it broke my heart. But in fact, maybe it was the best thing that happened, because it gave me the opportunity to go back to studying and continuing to learn.”
It wasn’t just the number of victories that made the football world take notice. Under Tite, Brazil revived the attacking and flamboyant DNA of the country’s past generations, netting 30 goals in their final 12 qualifiers compared to 11 in their first six. Such form has led most bookmakers to install Brazil as one of the favorites for the tournament.
Few doubt Brazil’s standing as a rehabilitated giant of international football. But has the team overcome the psychological trauma of the 7-1 defeat? According to Tite, the five-time world champions went a long way toward banishing any remaining ghosts in March with a 1-0 friendly victory over their 2014 executioners in Berlin.
“This has a huge psychological meaning, no one needs to fool themselves about that,” Tite said after the match.
Veteran defender Thiago Silva agreed. “It was a matter of pride, after all that has been written and said,” said Silva, who missed the match in Belo Horizonte four years ago due to suspension. “This jersey deserves a little more respect. That’s why I’m overjoyed about winning against a big opponent.”
Midfielder Fernandinho says that any lingering apathy among Brazilian fans resulting from the last World Cup will disappear when the Selecao play their first match against Switzerland in Rostov on June 17.
“Brazilians treat the World Cup differently to the rest of the world,” Fernandinho told reporters last week. “Shops close and everybody watches the matches. The passion that Brazilians have for football is so strong that when the World Cup starts, fans will no doubt support us. And as Brazil progresses in the tournament, I’m sure the support will only get stronger.”
Meanwhile, Brazil’s players will be focused on stepping up the fight that Tite began almost four years ago; a fight that this football-obsessed nation is hoping will bring glorious redemption in July.
SQUAD: Alisson, Ederson, Cassio; Marcelo, Danilo, Filipe Luis, Fagner, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, Miranda, Pedro Geromel; Willian, Fernandinho, Paulinho, Casemiro, Philippe Coutinho, Renato Augusto, Fred; Neymar, Gabriel Jesus, Roberto Firmino, Douglas Costa, Taison.
COACH:Tite (Full name: Adenor Leonardo Bacchi). A bold, confident communicator revered in Brazil, he has brought back the swagger after the national horror of 7-1.
KEY PLAYER: Neymar, who has the charisma and skills to become an international great, which he already thinks he is.