“Play for your club. Live and die for it. Anyone who doesn’t, might find themselves missing out on the World Cup.” Those were the words ringing in the ears of the Brazil players when coach Luiz Felipe Scolari spoke to them in the lead-up to their last friendly against South Africa in Johannesburg.
That message was a warning to a group of players who have become regulars on Scolari’s teamsheets. For the men on the fringes of the squad, meanwhile, it was also a reminder that there are still places available in his 23-man list for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
Two men nurturing such hopes are Atletico Madrid defenders Miranda and Filipe Luis, who have recently lost their places in the national side but have every chance of staying in Scolari’s thoughts, given their impressive form at a club that is still firmly in contention for major domestic and European silverware. Few players are doing as much as they are to follow Scolari’s message to the letter.
Discussing his chances of making it to Brazil 2014, central defender Miranda told FIFA.com: “This is a crucial time in terms of getting into the squad and obviously it’s good to be getting the kind of visibility we are enjoying at the moment, with Atletico doing so well. I am thinking about a place in the team because I know I’m good enough and I’ve been producing the kind of form needed to get into A Seleção.”
Miranda’s confidence is on a par with that of the high-flying Colchoneros, though the fact remains that he has spent 13 months out of the national set-up, having played just once for Scolari, back in February 2013. In that time, while his stock has risen as a cornerstone of the Atleti rearguard, he has seen rivals such as Rever bag a place in the squad for the FIFA Confederations Cup and Dede, Henrique and Marquinhos all get their chance alongside Thiago Silva, David Luiz and Dante.
I’m going to keep on fighting till the end to make that list. Like he said, anyone who doesn’t give their all for their club won’t be going to the World Cup.
Filipe Luis is also hanging on Scolari’s every word. The occupant of the left-back slot at the start of the coach’s tenure, he formed part of the squad that won the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 but has not been picked since, losing ground to Paris Saint-Germain’s Maxwell in the battle to become Marcelo’s deputy.
In the meantime, he, like Miranda, has made a sterling contribution to Atletico’s run to the last eight of the UEFA Champions League and their ongoing title push in Spain, doing his bit in the tightest defence in La Liga, which has conceded only 22 goals in 31 games this season.
“If I said I was happy about not being called up, I’d be lying,” the full-back told FIFA.com. “I’m pretty sure Felipão has more or less got the squad picked in his mind, but I’m going to keep on fighting till the end to make that list. Like he said, anyone who doesn’t give their all for their club won’t be going to the World Cup.”
While both players will be doing all they can to catch Scolari’s eye, they are wary of turning their quest to make the World Cup into an obsession. Thankfully for them, Atletico’s continuing push for domestic and European glory will help relieve any pressure they might be feeling about their Brazil 2014 prospects.
“The competition for places is fierce, with quite a few high-quality players in the mix,” commented Miranda. “What I need to focus on is continuing to help Atletico succeed. We had the best defence last season as well and that’s definitely helped.”
“Obviously I’m still available and I’m itching to hear some good news, though I don’t think that Felipão is making a mistake,” said Filipe Luis, adopting a remarkably philosophical stance, given that he was an established player in the squad until recently. “I don’t think it matters whether it’s me, Marcelo, Maxwell or Adriano. It’s not a position where you can have that many doubts, like in attack. That’s why it won’t be a bad decision if I don’t make the squad.”
We’ve started to believe we’re at the same level as Barcelona and Real. We’ve earned respect and nobody wants to face us now.
The ability to keep calm in the face of such adversity is a point in Filipe Luis’ favour. Helping him maintain his equilibrium is the fact that team-mate Miranda knows exactly what he is going through. Their togetherness and the respect they have for each other have proved beneficial both for them and Atletico. With their rock-solid defence and the irresistible Diego Costa up front, it has been no surprise to see the side that won the 2012 UEFA Europa League kick on and challenge the big boys at home and in Europe.
Pondering their success, Miranda said: “People ask: ‘How can this team play so much when it’s been unchanged for the last two years?’ That’s the secret though. The difference is that we’ve started to believe we’re at the same level as Barcelona and Real. We’ve earned respect and nobody wants to face us now.”
Voicing his agreement, Filipe Luis added: “It’s understandable that people thought we wouldn’t stick it out. We don’t have any superstars and we know our limits. We give everything on the pitch, though, and our attack is our first line of defence. Even when we’re not playing well we never give up and we create the chances we need to win.”
The pair are mindful not to get carried away, however, and shy away from predicting glory for Atleti in La Liga and the Champions League.
Rounding off on a typically cautious note, the full-back said: “It’s hard to talk about being champions. [Diego] Simeone’s philosophy is to go one game at a time and pick up as many points as possible. Obviously, though, when you’re up there fighting for so long, you start to set your sights higher.”
Atleti’s Brazilian duo believe faith can move mountains, a maxim they hope will hold true on a collective and personal level in the weeks to come.