Philippe Coutinho has unhappy memories of his first FIFA competition, when he formed part of a Brazil side which crashed out in the group phase of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009. Returning to the world stage two years on at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011, the midfielder and his team-mates look set for a longer run after easing past Austria in their second game and reaching the top of Group E.
“I’m not going to deny it. Getting knocked out in Nigeria after drawing with Egypt played on my mind for a while,” the gifted No 10 told FIFA.com. “I’ve got over it now, though, and I’ve spoken about it a lot with Casemiro, who was also there.
“That early exit was pretty horrible, but luckily it’s part of the past,” he continued. “We’re winning here, and the most important thing is that we’re playing well and improving with every game. We need to build on that and keep on developing through the rest of the competition.”
The former Vasco da Gama youth product is happy with his contribution to Brazil’s progress so far, as he should be. His mazy dribbles and pinpoint passes were a feature of Brazil’s comfortable 3-0 defeat of the Austrians. “I played well in that game, but we all put in good performances,” he said. “I know I can give a lot more, but I’ll get there as long as I keep on working.”
One of Coutinho’s playmaking partners at Nigeria 2009 was Neymar, currently an object of desire for the heavyweights of European football. The Santos star was the top scorer in this year’s South American U-20 Championship, which was won by A Seleção in the injury-enforced absence of Coutinho.
With Neymar now absent from the Colombia 2011 squad, can Coutinho fill in and inspire the Brazilians to another world title? “He’s a personal friend of mine and a fantastic footballer,” replied the Inter youngster. “But we’ve got some other very talented players in this team. My job is to create play but I don’t feel it’s any more of a responsibility just because he’s not here. As long as everyone in the team is doing what they have to do, we can definitely improve as the tournament goes on.”
Unlike many of the other players sharing the stage with him in Colombia, Coutinho has already made the move to Europe, where he hopes to emulate the successes of his role models, Ronaldinho and Kaka. And as you might expect of an Inter Milan man, he is determined to reach for the top: “My aim is to win a title, which is something every player aspires to in their career, and play at the Olympic Games. My dream is also to win here and go back to Brazil with the cup.”
After his Nigerian nightmare, that would be one very happy ending.