Thiago Silva back at the heart of Brazil's side
Defender was in international wilderness during qualifying
Coach Tite has put faith in the 33-year-old
“How can it be that you’re a star at your club and yet not part of the Brazil team?”
That was just one of the questions aimed at Thiago Silva on more than occasion during his time out of the Brazil team, in the early stages of the qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, when Dunga was in charge.
Anyone who saw the central defender seal his side’s 2-0 defeat of Serbia in Moscow on Wednesday with a commanding near-post header could have been forgiven for wondering why that question even had to be asked in the first place. Add to that his superb display at the back, which, as he reminded FIFA.com, is primarily what he is there for, and his period of isolation from the national side becomes virtually impossible to understand.
“I feel like it’s a job well done, and not just because of the goal but because we’re defending well at the moment,” said the centre-half. “We played well again and we’ve gone another game without conceding. And when you score in a situation like that, it makes you even more proud.”
A Seleção will go into their Round-of-16 tie with Mexico unbeaten in their last 14 matches and having lost only once in 24 since Tite took over as coach, conceding just six goals in that time. This team knows how to attack, and it also knows how to keep things tight at the back.
Faced with a defiant Serbia side, Brazil chose possession of the ball as the best form of defence. As well as being easy on the eye, it was an approach that also ensured them a relatively smooth ride in the first half.
Things changed at the start of the second half, however, as the Balkan side pressed for an equaliser, pushing the Brazilians against the ropes for an uncomfortable ten-minute spell. “That’s international football for you,” Silva explained. “You know there’s going to be a time when you’re going to suffer. The most important thing is that the team was able to do that.”
Dispersing the doubters Silva spoke with head held high and shoulders relaxed, and not without good reason: aside from helping his side record a second consecutive world finals win for the first time since the group phase at South Africa 2010 and move into the last 16, he has also further cemented his place in the national team after his spell on the sidelines.
Even though he missed the semi-final defeat to Germany in 2014, Silva still came in for criticism. The sight of him, the team captain, crying after the nerve-shredding penalty-shootout win against Chile at the Mineirao became one of the defining images of a troubled campaign.
Suddenly, one of the finest centre-halves of his generation was deemed to be no longer up to the job, which is the kind of thing that can happen in a country where football is regarded as much more than a game.
And it was on that recurring subject – the lack of faith in his abilities that had dogged him since then – that he spoke at a press conference in England during Brazil’s preparations for Russia 2018: “When you don’t win, you get called a failure.”
He added: “That’s the way I am [an emotional person], but the most important thing is that it’s never affected me on the pitch. I try to be as focused as I can so I can do my job to the best of my abilities.”
The emotion on display in Moscow on Wednesday was pure joy, albeit expressed by someone who knows very well that when it comes to Brazil, euphoria can rapidly give way to dejection.
That is the only explanation why a centre-half of his ability came to spend so long in the wilderness, a state of affairs that Tite gradually addressed, with obvious benefits. Finally, that troubling question has received an emphatic answer.