Brazil have been exceeding expectations at the FIFA Confederations Cup. As strange as that may sound for a national team that boasts five world titles, it has to be remembered that most of the talk about Luiz Felipe Scolari’s team in the build-up to the competition centred on their goalscoring problems, their growing inability to convince and excite the fans and their failure to beat the big teams.
Having set that last record straight by seeing off France in their final warm-up match, the Brazilians have responded to their other shortcomings in convincing style, making largely serene progress through the group phase to consign all that pre-tournament talk to history.
The doubters have been silenced by three fine wins, nine goals and the return of Neymar to something approaching his best form. And just for good measure, the latest of those victories, Saturday’s 4-2 win over Italy at the Arena Fonte Nova, proved very special for two members of Scolari’s squad.
Unused before tonight, central defender Dante made his first appearance of the competition at the stadium he used to frequent as a boyhood Bahia supporter, marking the occasion by putting his side in front.
Then front man Fred got back to his prolific scoring ways, weighing in with a timely brace, his first goals of the competition. Accustomed to finding the back of the net with some frequency for Brazil, the Fluminense forward had finished their opening two games empty-handed, a minor concern for everyone.
For everyone, that is, except Felipão, who wasted little time after the match in reaffirming his complete confidence in the striker. “Fred has played six or seven games for me and scored six or seven times,” the coach told FIFA.com. “I don’t know what more people want from him. Some people say they don’t like Fred. They say he’s not their kind of player and that he’s not the right man, but as far as I’m concerned, he’s always there.”
As he himself explained to FIFA.com, the player is grateful for the support he gets from his coach: “No matter what position comes up for discussion, Felipão has always said he believes in the team, which is real confidence booster for everyone. He has confidence in every player, regardless of who they are, which is great for us.”
Confidence is an essential commodity for any player, but especially so for the men up front, as Hernanes told FIFA.com after Saturday’s game. “We know how it feels for a centre-forward when they go without scoring, and Fred is an out-and-out centre-forward,” said the Lazio midfielder, who came into the starting line-up in place of the injured Paulinho. “You only have to watch the goal he scored today to see that: he controlled the ball, held off his marker and fired a shot off straightaway.
“Only someone who knows what he’s doing in the box can do that. If the goals don’t come when you’re a centre-forward, then you start to wonder if you’re going wrong somewhere. That’s why it was good for him to score twice.”
Another player called upon in place of an injured colleague was Dante, who came on in the first half for David Luiz and then enjoyed a dream come true. Talking to FIFA.com a few weeks ago, the Bayern Munich centre-back said he had been thinking a lot about the chance to play in his home town. And 11 minutes after that chance came, he did something he had managed only once in 45 appearances for Bayern last season: score a goal.
“This is right up there. It’s better than anything else. It’s one of the happiest days of my life, easily, easily,” said the 29-year-old local boy to FIFA.com, clutching in his hands the samba instruments he uses when leading the Brazil team’s celebrations. “There’s nothing more inspiring than knowing you’ve got a lot of people there supporting you and then going out on an occasion like this and scoring a goal. I couldn’t have dreamed of anything better.”
That last sentence could just as easily have applied to the start Brazil have made to the tournament. Always under pressure to perform, thanks in no small part to the five world titles amassed by their predecessors, the current Seleção breed are finding their feet and learning to live with expectation, as the goalscoring duo of Dante and Fred showed on a very special night in Salvador.