MOSCOW: Brazil have topped their group 10th time in a row in the World Cup and coach Tite celebrated Wednesday night’s win over Serbia with a drink. If one saw the energy of the yellow-clad Brazilians and heard their throat bursting songs as they marched on the streets of Moscow a couple of hours after Neymar killed a high ball with the left foot twisting it across the right, one would understand the passion that fuels the Canarinhos and often leads to its downfall.
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They just love their ‘malandro’, a Brazilian folk hero who defies norm and order and thinks discipline is for the ordinary. “He is the trickster, the con man,” explains Simon Kuper in his book “Football against the enemy”. Brazilians have this weakness for trickery and guile. Neymar offers them their poison without a care for the occasion or the stage. Thousands have crossed the Atlantic – with only a yellow t-shirt on their back – to follow the fortunes of their beloved Selecao, and it’s impossible for Tite to ignore the sentiments.
“We don’t live off expectations, we live off reality,” he said after securing a contest against Mexico in the knockouts, harping on a similar narrative as his South American neighbour Jorge Sampaoli.
Swinging between the real and the virtual is the roller-coaster that both Tite and Sampaoli are experiencing in Russia.
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“This is a team that is growing mentally stronger in the competition and taking the pressure with a good performance on the pitch,” Tite added. The injury to Marcelo early in the game almost disturbed the team’s balance but Felipe Luis filled the void without drawing any criticism. Neymar and Coutinho’s exceptional performance could be the reason the Atletico Madrid wing back enjoyed a calm and unperturbed initiation in Russia.
Former Brazilian star Edmundo, fondly remembered as the ‘Animal’, was full of praise for Neymar. “He played for the team. His touches and distribution were outstanding. He dribbled when he should have. That’s what we hope from a leader like him, a great inheritor of the No.10 shirt.”
Even Coutinho called Neymar “one of the very best players in the world and a reference point for the Selecao”.
It was the newest Barcelona entrant who caused most damage to the Serbians. He set up the opening goal with a million-ruble pass for Paulinho to finish following an intelligent run timed to perfection.
Even though Neymar held the crowd at Spartak in thrall and Coutinho orchestrated Brazil’s offensive game, it was goal-scorer Paulinho who took away the man of the match award. “Since the last four years, a lot has changed in my life and career. Leaving England (Tottenham Hotspur) was good for me. I had lost my confidence, but I’ve regained it. I’ve played very well, helped my club to win (La Liga). I’m here because I worked and I deserved it. In four years, I’ve learnt a lot,” said the midfielder who reinvented himself after a stint in China. The Barcelona midfielder is the only player in history to have won two continental club titles, Copa Libertadores with Corinthians and the AFC Champions League with Guanhzhou Evergrande.
When asked about Germany’s exit, Paulinho said, “As for Germany, there is nothing to say. Our concern is to move forward. But we know how hard a World Cup is. Today we took another step. We wanted to qualify and we managed it.”