He’s impressed London crowds on numerous occasions already in the early stages of the Premier League season with Chelsea. Now, Willian will be hoping to replicating that form for Brazil when they take on neighbours Uruguay in what has been his home city for the last five years on Friday.
The explosive winger has already played his part in eight goals since returning from the FIFA World Cup™ – where A Seleção reached the quarter-finals – and has been producing some of his best football in a blue shirt.
With Russia 2018 in the rearview mirror and the Copa America 2019 on the road ahead, we hear from the 30-year-old on London, the next steps for the squad and memories of facing Uruguay in the past.
After this summer’s World Cup there was much talk of revamping the Brazil line-up but Tite’s squad for the friendlies against Uruguay and Cameroon includes 17 of the 23 players who went to Russia. What are your thoughts on this?
I think renewing the squad is always valuable, but we need to keep some experienced players to make the transition easier. This is part of a process that happens every four years. And Brazil always has a lot of youngsters and talented players competing to play for the Seleção, players who already play at the top level in Brazil or in Europe. But it’s important to be cautious about throwing them straight in in order to get the best of them.
One of the recent additions, Richarlison has made a big impact since coming in and has increased competition for places up front. Are you surprised by how well he’s done?
Richarlison is doing really well with Everton. He’s one of the biggest surprises of the Premier League so far. He’s scoring goals and has established himself as a key player for his club. Not only that he got two goals on his Brazil debut and did a great job all round. He has a lot of quality and a lot of potential.
Next June the Copa America takes place in Brazil. What can we expect?
I’m very excited about representing Brazil in the Copa America next year. It’s great to have friends and family able to come and watch you in the stadium. Winning this trophy is always a big thing, especially in front of home crowds, and obviously that’s what we’ll be aiming for.
The rivalry between Brazil and Uruguay is a big one. Do you have any special memories of games against them?
Brazil versus Uruguay is always a tough match. They have a lot of great players, and a never-say-die mentality. They know how to mark well, so there’s never much space for creating opportunities and they make things difficult for their opponents. The standout memory for me is the game we played in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers in Montevideo. Uruguay scored first but we bounced back really strongly to win 4-1 and Paulinho got a hat-trick. It was one of our best performances in the qualifying competition.
We’re on four-game winning streak and we want to keep that going. We are at the start of a new cycle, with new players coming in, so it’s important to keep the momentum and confidence on a high. Uruguay will provide a tough test, but we’ve got to be prepared for that. I think it’s going to be a great game; the fans won’t be disappointed.
London is your adopted home city. Does it feel special to be playing for Brazil there?
Playing in London for Brazil is always a positive experience as we’re made to feel really welcome here – it’s like a home from home. And the Emirates is a good venue to play at: great infrastructure, a big capacity, and it’s normally sold out. Every time I’ve played there for Chelsea the atmosphere was amazing, though I’m used to the crowd being against us. This time it will be mostly Brazilians as there are a lot of us in London. I played for Brazil there in 2015 when we beat Chile 1-0, so this will be my second time playing for the Selecao at the Emirates. Hopefully we’ll get another win.
You’ve also played at Emirates a lot with Chelsea. Any special memories?
In fact I’ve played there seven times for Chelsea; we’ve won two, lost two and drawn the other three. It’s always a tough place to come and win. For example, earlier this year we had a great match that ended 2-2. I provided an assist for Marcos Alonso and it looked like we were heading for victory but Arsenal grabbed an equalizer in the last minute.