22 August 1993, the Estadio Morumbi, Sao Paulo. Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira emerges from the tunnel, looks around him and takes a long, deep breath. The pressure is on for A Seleção. Defeated in a FIFA World Cup™ qualifier for the very first time the previous month in Bolivia, they have no option but to beat Ecuador and turn on the style in doing so, the very least expected of them by their ever-demanding supporters.
Reflecting on that day in a lengthy 2012 interview with FIFA.com, Parreira spoke of the tension and pressure weighing down on his side. Though they eventually saw off the Ecuadorians 2-0, his charges did not do enough to please the Sao Paulo fans, who unceremoniously booed the home players off the pitch, subjecting them to the kind of stinging criticism that perhaps no other national team has to endure in victory.
Much has changed in the 21 years since then, not least the fact that A Seleção Brasileira now have five world titles to their name instead of three. Though Parreira remains part of the set-up as technical director, Luiz Felipe Scolari is the man who now calls the shots from the dugout, having guided Brazil to a much-celebrated triumph in last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup.
One other thing that has changed is the reaction of the Seleção faithful to adversity, of which there has been plenty for the host nation in their first two games at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. Made to work hard in securing a tense comeback win over Croatia in the Opening Match of the tournament, Scolari’s side then fell short of the fans’ expectations in playing out a goalless draw with Mexico, the first time since June 2011 that Brazil had failed to score at home.
In days gone by such a result could well have been greeted with disappointment, criticism and talk of a crisis or even a disaster. But at the Castelao last Tuesday there was no booing from the stands or even the slightest complaint.
Discussing the sympathetic reaction of the home fans with FIFA.com after the match, Neymar said: “I can definitely sense them getting more and more on our side, come what may. Everyone is coming along to support us, right till the end, and it’s been that way for a while now. Just like our style of play, it’s become a hallmark of the team, and there’s nothing better than getting that sort of support when you’re hosting the World Cup.”
In sickness and in health
It is telling that Neymar should mention the words “come what may”. It is one thing for the Brazil fans to stand up, full of heart, and sing the national anthem out loud before kick-off – another defining characteristic of A Seleção – but quite another to maintain that sense of belief and optimism when things are not going the way of their heroes on the pitch, as was the case when Tri keeper Guillermo Ochoa held them at bay last week.
What makes such patience all the more notable is the fact that Brazil have more world titles than anyone, possess a reputation for playing enterprising football and boast a formidable home record, having gone unbeaten on home soil since August 2002, when Paraguay defeated them in a friendly.
“Do you want me to tell you what I really think?” David Luiz asked FIFA.com. “I think part of the reason why that whole myth even exists is that the Brazilian football media created it. As far as we’re concerned, we’ve had a great reception from the fans wherever we’ve gone. Sure there’s pressure. After all, we’re a big side with a lot of ambition, so it’s only normal that there’s pressure. The thing is, the fans have always given us a helping hand. Always.”
Pressure comes with the territory when you are the Brazilian national team, though as Luiz and the whole team know very well, that pressure only intensifies on home soil. What is remarkable is that for the time being at least, the tournament hosts appear to be above criticism, even when they fall behind or fail to break down the opposition defence.
Things definitely seem to have changed in Brazil then, so much so that when Carlos Alberto Parreira pokes his head out of the tunnel at the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha before Monday’s meeting with Cameroon, he will rest easy in the knowledge that thousands of cheering fans around him will be supporting A Seleção come what may.