Weverton, Brazil's unlikely penalty hero
When the phone rang, Atlético Paranaense goalkeeper Weverton was sitting on a plane preparing himself for a long flight back to Curitiba and mulling over his side’s 2-0 defeat against Sport Recife the night before. The call brought news he could scarcely believe: a surprise call-up to the Brazilian national team, the first of his career. Not only that, he was to be the starting keeper in the Rio 2016 Men’s Olympic Football Tournament after Fernando Prass, coach Rogério Micale's previous first choice, was ruled out with a fractured elbow.
Less than one month later, the keeper spoke to FIFA.com not just as a gold medal winner, but the architect of Brazil’s triumph. After a great performance in the match itself, Weverton dived to his left to keep out Germany's fifth penalty, struck by the tournament's top scorer Nils Petersen. So, if someone had told him back on July 30 before he took to the pitch against Sport that this would happen, would he have believed them?
“It’s a crazy story, isn’t it?” he said, as he candidly described how the news of his call-up had stirred up a complicated mixture of feelings. After the initial sense of accomplishment, he began to think about what lay ahead and the responsibility that had been placed on his shoulders. “I was pretty anxious and scared about the idea of playing for the national team at the Olympics here in Brazil. I knew it would involve a lot of pressure.”
Weverton hails from Rio Branco, the capital of the state of Acre and a region not known as a breeding ground for footballers. His move to play for the youth team of a major club like Corinthians before becoming a fan favourite at Atlético-PR was already an improbable journey. Now, the 28-year-old will return to his club a hero.
In his first spell with the Seleção, Weverton conceded only one goal from open play in 570 minutes of action at the tournament, a precise finish from Maximilian Meyer in the second half of the final. Crucially, in the first period he produced a great save to keep out a low shot from Meyer before clearing his lines from Matthias Ginter as the ball bobbled around his area.
“We reached the final without conceding a goal. That generated confidence not just for me but for the whole team,” he said. “It was a tough match against a good side, who like to impose themselves on the game and who deserve congratulations for the part they played in a great contest. Even though we conceded in the second half, we managed to regroup. When the game went to penalties I was feeling pretty good.”
Weverton also explained how he did his homework before the final. While neither he, his team-mates nor the 63,707 fans at the Maracanã wanted to go through the drama of a penalty shootout, he made sure he was well prepared. “I studied all the penalty takers and I was feeling confident, although I wasn’t able to save the first few attempts. But God prepared me for the last one, which I managed to save, and then it came down to Neymar, and he stepped up and scored,” he recalled. “We’ve achieved something that will go down in Brazilian football history.”
It was an experience the goalkeeper could hardly have imagined a few weeks earlier, yet he produced a save that will be remembered in years to come as one of the most important in the history of a storied football nation like Brazil. The next time he catches a plane back to Curitiba, he will only need to look down at the gold medal hanging around his neck to remind himself that it really did happen.