There are some things that, for whatever reason, you do not need to see to believe. In the case of Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, goalkeepers appear to be one of those. Indeed, despite Julio Cesar’s troubles at club level last season, Felipão did not need to see him in action to know he could count on him at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
He decided, and made it clear long before submitting his 23-man final squad, that the ex-Inter Milan player would be his first-choice. This at a time when Cesar was surplus to requirements at Queen’s Park Rangers, was therefore not getting first-team action and would soon go on loan to MLS outfit Toronto FC, a club far less heralded than those of his colleagues in A Seleção. It did not matter, Scolari still believed.
“That [faith] was what kept me calm. It made it easier for me to do a good job,” said Cesar, speaking to FIFA shortly after saving two penalties in Brazil’s Round of 16 shoot-out win over Chile. “I can understand the doubters though: when you’re not playing, there are always going to be question marks.”
When referee Howard Webb blew his whistle for the end of extra time at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte and the two teams began getting ready for penalties, Brazil’s No12 said little, listened a lot and thought even more. And, then, remembering everything he had gone through, shed a few tears.
I got very emotional and couldn’t hold back the tears.
In the minutes that preceded the shot-stopping heroics which ensured the five-time world champions’ campaign would continue, a host of images flashed through Cesar’s mind: the misjudgement of a high ball that contributed to defeat by the Netherlands at South Africa 2010; the penalty save versus Uruguay – again in the Mineirao – in the semi-final of last year’s Confederations Cup; the faith Felipão showed in him even when out of favour at QPR; the spectacular second-half save to prevent Chile going ahead; and even his aunt’s living room in Duque de Caxias, 20 years ago.
“That was where I watched the  World Cup Final,” said Cesar, recalling Brazil’s penalty shoot-out triumph over Italy on US soil. “At that moment [before the shoot-out vs. Chile], so many things went through my head including that game, because [Claudio] Taffarel was my idol. Then my team-mates all came up to offer me their support and motivate me, because of everything that’d been happening in my career. I got very emotional and couldn’t hold back the tears.”
Yet what exactly can someone say to such an experienced goalkeeper at a time like that, particularly when the tension could be cut with a knife? No matter. Just as some things do not need to be seen to be believed, Cesar did not need to hear what his colleagues were saying in order to receive their message loud and clear.
“We needn’t have said anything, because he knows we’ve got total faith in him,” said Dani Alves to FIFA.com. “We all knew that it would soon be Julio’s moment to shine. So, it didn’t matter what each of us actually said to him. To be honest I can’t remember what I did say, and I bet most of the lads are the same. It wasn’t about the words, it was about making it clear he knew we believed in him.”
Echoing those thoughts was keeper Victor, back-up to Cesar in Brazil, when speaking to FIFA.com. “Times like that are not for doing much talking. What you’re really trying to do is make the guy feel comfortable,” explained a man who shone for Atletico Mineiro in three consecutive spot-kick wins on their way to the 2013 Copa Libertadores crown, the last of these shoot-outs in the very same goal where Cesar saved penalties from Mauricio Pinilla and Alexis Sanchez.
“Yesterday we did quite a lot of research on the Chilean penalty-takers: for example we studied a few taken by [Mauricio] Pinilla, who usually shoots down the centre of goal,” revealed Victor. “That’s when you see the mark of a great goalkeeper: at a moment like that, under so much pressure, Julio had the composure to do exactly what made most sense and wait for the kick before committing.”
All the while back in the centre circle, Brazil captain Thiago Silva was carrying out his customary shoot-out routine: steadfastly refusing to watch the action unfold. “I don’t know who scored and who missed their penalties, nor how the shoot-out went. I saw nothing, I wasn’t brave enough,” he told FIFA.
In the end, however, despite their skipper’s anxiety, all turned out well for O escrete verde-amarelo. As should be clear by this point, Julio Cesar’s star quality does not need to be seen to be believed. But of course, Felipão could have told you that months ago.