Every morning Brazil goalkeeper Jenilson Brito Rodrigues, better known as Mao, sets up a cone at one end of the pitch and throws no fewer than 100 balls at it from the other. Such is the amazing precision with which he projects the ball that between 80 and 90 of those throws hit their target.
“It might sound boring to some people but it’s a training exercise that I like, and it’s fun when I hit the target,” Brazil’s first-choice custodian told FIFA.com.
It is thanks to such dedication that Mao, which, incidentally, is Portuguese for “hand”, collected the adidas Golden Glove at Dubai 2009. And the reason behind the daily routine is a simple one: aside from preventing goals, the imposing keeper’s brief is also to launch counter-attacks with his golden arm.
“He trains an awful lot, even when we’ve not got a training camp or a tournament and he’s alone at his home in Espirito Santo,” said Brazil coach Alexandre Soares. “He knows that his throws are an important weapon for us. It used to be his weak point, but he’s worked on it so hard that as well as being a great shot-stopper he’s now a great distributor. He’s only getting better and better, and for my money he’s the best keeper in the world.”
Unusually for Brazil, however, Mao has had to concentrate more on stopping goals at Ravenna/Italy 2011 than on trying to set them up. The four-time world champions won all three of their group games, but by very narrow margins in each case: one on penalties, another by one goal and the other by two.
In doing so they scored 11 goals, a paltry return by their exceptional standards, with Mao being put under more pressure by opponents than is the norm, as coach Soares acknowledged: “We’re used to making the pace but in every game so far we’ve fallen behind and have had to fight our way back. We’re scoring fewer goals and that means Mao and the defence have to be on their guard all the time.”
Having let in only seven goals so far, less than anyone bar Portugal and Ukraine, Mao and Co have certainly been watchful, though it came as a surprise to many to see the Brazilians outscored by no fewer than seven teams in the group phase. “Our aim’s been to keep the goals down to no more than two or three a game,” explained Mao. “All we need to do now is score more at the other end. We’ve been working on our finishing but we haven’t yet had a game where the goals have gone flying in for us.”
Though Brazil have not scored as many as they would have liked, several of their goals in Ravenna have come from Mao’s precise throws, proof that his repetitive routine is worth all the effort and application he devotes to it. “It makes me happy when I can help the team out like that because I know how much work went into it,” said the dedicated keeper, rounding things off. “If I throw 100 passes and one of them leads to the winning goal, then all the training will have been worthwhile. And what’s more, I enjoy it.”