The opportunity to play in a major international tournament is one that alludes most footballers, the closest that most of us come to playing in a World Cup is wearing the tops of our favourite national teams and shouting out “DIDIER DROGBA” when we score a goal through two jumpers for goalposts in the park.
On Saturday Brazilian players will be blessed with the once in a lifetime opportunity of representing their country at an international tournament in THEIR COUNTRY, you can only imagine the excitement coursing their veins right now. Whilst ‘excitement’ may be what we imagine, the reality of an occasion like this is pressure, a lot of pressure.
Most of the best Brazilian players leave their homeland at such a young age that their people are robbed of seeing them in their prime years (unless it’s through a YouTube compilation), so the expectation is so much higher of them when they wear the famous yellow, blue and green colours. It’s a case of “we’ve seen all of the things you’ve done for your clubs in Europe, but can you do it here… for US. You’re not on the other side of the world, you’re right here, you can’t hide, you can’t run”
What separates Brazil from most footballing nations is that ‘winning isn’t just the goal, it’s the expectation’… anything less is a failure. This statement carries even more weight when they’re playing at home – Brazil have won the Copa America on all four of the previous occasions which they have hosted the tournament (1919, 1922, 1949 and 1989).
The Pressure’s On Coutinho
Despite the criticism that Neymar has received for his recent antics on and off the field, there is no question that the Brazil team looks a lot more formidable with him in the line-up than without him. Unfortunately for Brazil they’ll go into this tournament without Neymar, after their talisman suffered ankle ligament damage in 2-0 win over Qatar in a warm-up game. The responsibility to carry the team now falls on the shoulders of Philippe Coutinho, but this isn’t a position that he is unaccustomed to.
At last Summer’s World Cup Coutinho was the most consistent performer in Brazil’s attack. Whilst Neymar and Gabriel Jesus wilted and struggled for form, Coutinho scored goals in crucial make or break moments, finishing the tournament with 2 goals and 2 assists in 5 games.
This time around the circumstances are a lot different. At the World Cup Coutinho was the Robin to Neymar’s Batman, his role was just to take some of the pressure off of the main man, any goal, assist or key pass he contributed to the team were all in service of making Neymar’s job that much easier. Neymar’s absence means that all are eyes are firmly fixed on Coutinho to be this team’s hero.
However, the former Liverpool man’s stock and confidence have never been lower… Coutinho was coming off of the best of his career going into the 2018 World Cup, after completing a big money move to Barcelona he secured three trophies in just half a season (La Liga, Copa del Rey and the Spanish Super Cup), this season his form has been so inconsistent that the Catalans are considering offloading him at a cut price.
He needs this tournament to go well more than most.
Last Chance Saloon
All good things must come to an end, and that time is nearing for some of the greatest Brazilian players of this era – Dani Alves (36), Thiago Silva (34), Fernandinho (34) and Felipe Luis (33) are all still very serviceable players for their country but with the next World Cup three years away it’s not likely that many of them will still playing at a high level.
With the exception of Dani Alves, the other three players are yet to lift either the Copa America or the World Cup despite having nearly 200 appearances for the national team between them – it’s not or never for this group of players so you can be sure that they will be looking to end their international careers’ with a title this Summer.
Coming Of Age
Whenever people think of Brazil playing in a tournament that they’re hosting the first thought is the humiliating 7-1 defeat against Germany in 2014, the funny thing about this is that that isn’t even the last time that Brazil hosted a major tournament… Brazil actually won the last tournament they hosted AND beat Germany on penalties at the 2016 Olympics.
With that being said, the fact that the first memory that comes to mind when we think of Brazil hosting a tournament is their humbling in 2016 is evidence of the scar tissue that still remains after that loss – some players never played for Brazil again after that game (Fred, Julio César, Maicon and Ramires). It’s been 5 years since the events in Belo Horizonte and the best thing about time is that it heals all, people move on and they forget, but this isn’t one of those things. Brazilian fans will NEVER forget what happened and neither will the players involved.
Whilst the fading of the memory may not have happened just yet, change definitely has. The current squad still contains some players who were there on that dark day in Belo Horizonte, but for the most part it’s full also of a new crop of talent who don’t have scar tissue from the 2014 World Cup and some of the mainstays from previous tournaments – David Neres replaces Douglas Costa, Everton replaces Hulk, Arthur replaces Renato Augusto, Richarlison replaces Taison, and so on and so on.
This Copa America symbolises the changing of the guard for Brazil. There will never be a better chance for these young players to establish themselves as the faces of the future than with a win in front of their own people this Summer.