When they lost their final group match to the combative Australians (2-3), Brazil suffered a hammer blow. This unexpected blip almost cost them their place in the next round, an unimaginable state of affairs for the Seleçao who have never been eliminated at the first hurdle of the FIFA World Youth Championship in 12 outings. Defenders Adailton and Daniel will be out to apply the lessons learnt from this ignominious reverse during their last sixteen-stage clash with Slovakia in Sharjah.

“We have taken this defeat as a wake-up call, as a warning to stay fully focused. Now it won’t happen again. I guess we fell victim to a bout of over-confidence, thinking that the match against Australia would be easy.” Big Brazilian central defender Adailton is painfully aware how close his side came to unmitigated disaster courtesy of their shock defeat by the Young Socceroos, with only Canada’s surprise win over the Czechs (1-0) saving Marcos Paqueta’s men from a first-round exit.

Trailing 3-0 at one stage, the Auriverdes clawed their way back into the match, but for once that all-important leveller eluded them. “We were much too relaxed, almost asleep until their third goal went in. And when we did finally wake up, it was too late. The long and the short of it is that we nearly got knocked out in the first round, something that has never happened to the Seleçao…”, the young stopper summarises. “We found out that we have no automatic right to victory, but that we have to earn it. However, I feel this loss has boosted togetherness within the squad, making our team spirit stronger,” chips in Daniel, his right-sided defensive colleague.

Consequently, it is with some circumspection but predominant humility that the Brazilians await their tussle with Slovakia for a quarter-final place. “It will be a very tough game. We’ve got through a tricky group phase without playing particularly good football, as we weren’t sufficiently well prepared. But I believe we’ll get stronger as the tournament progresses and have a good chance of going through,” declares Adailton.

A healthy dose of respect
Daniel too, is wary of the threat posed by the Eastern Europeans. “The Slovaks are a very strong side, and we’ll need to keep an eye on all their players, but according to our coach, their strikers are the biggest threat, particularly the number 10.”

s a result, we may be about to witness the unusual spectacle of a Brazilian team tailoring its style of play to suit circumstances. For their defenders, it is a case of ‘once bitten, twice shy.’ “We have to keep playing our usual attacking game, but at the same time we’ll be a little more cautious and patient than normal,” considers Daniel. Always naturally looking to get forward, Adailton, who plays for Vitoria in Brazil, will certainly have to restrain himself somewhat. “My number one priority is defending, and that will be uppermost in my mind against the Slovaks. But if I get opportunities to go forward, I’ll take them.”

But prudence does not translate as pessimism, with both defenders thoroughly convinced that their uniquely Brazilian qualities can take them a very long way. “We’re a typically Brazilian team, with great individual skill that means we can create a goal out of nothing or play our way out of defence. Plus, we fight all the way to the final whistle. We never give up,” Adailton assesses.

The Vitoria defender is well aware that it will be a long, hard road, as the tournament is particularly tight this year. “It is a difficult tournament, every match is tough as each team has its own qualities. Take Argentina, for example: they had no end of problems against Egypt in what some thought would be a one-sided affair.” He is intent therefore on keeping the lessons of the defeat by the Aussies in the front of his mind: “I’ve learned that no match is won just by turning up.” And at 6pm on 9 December, it will become apparent whether he and his teammates have done their homework thoroughly as matters unfold on the pitch at Sharjah…