Shortly before kick-off in Estádio Castelão, the first lines of Brazil’s national anthem – the Hino Nacional Brasileiro – will begin. It will start quickly and never really slow down until that loud, inspiring, hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck climax when the music stops and it is for the crowd and the players to bring the second stanza to its crescendo. Tria amada, Brasil! It is a collective outpouring of emotion that can leave its audience feeling drained, never mind that line of 11 talented men in the famous yellow shirts.
Of all the torrential images out here in Brazil, it is strange how that moment scores so highly on the list of great memories from this World Cup. As Luiz Felipe Scolari said after the game against Chile: “It’s been very emotional.” His job over the last few days has been to try to steady everyone for the quarter-final against Colombia. Yet it has not been easy. It never is when the pressure is straying dangerously close to intolerable.
Scolari held a private briefing with half a dozen of his favoured football writers this week and complained that the media as a whole was not being supportive enough. His team, he said, felt isolated. Then his pre-match press conference started, with Thiago Silva in the next seat, and it quickly became apparent that Brazil’s manager and captain were not going to get an easy ride. Silva, in particular, was given a grilling about his suitability for the role until Scolari eventually decided he had heard enough and interrupted to defend his player. Scolari was then required to explain his unofficial briefing and told his audience they sounded jealous and could “go to hell” if they did not like how he operated. For someone trying to argue everything was in control, it sounded suspiciously like the pressure was getting to him, too.
It was a strained event but it has been that way, paradoxically, since beating Chile on penalties in Belo Horizonte last weekend. The sight of Júlio César, Neymar and David Luiz crying before the shootout has divided opinion in Brazil. As for Silva, the criticism has stemmed from him watched the penalties from the touchline, sitting alone, separated from his team-mates. “I asked God not to be selected,” he explained. “I missed two of my last three and Scolari asked me to be the sixth. I said no. I asked to be last on the list, behind Júlio César.”
To many here, that has been taken as a sign of weakness. Silva’s response was a long speech defending himself from “silly things” pointing out he had overcome tuberculosis as a child and was “a champion” who just happened to cry a lot. “My leader is beside me,” he said, looking to Scolari. “Ask the commander. This is the way I am. I’m just very emotional.”
Yet Careca is among the former players to question whether Scolari’s squad appears fragile, and maybe too caught up in the moment, using up too much emotional energy.
“There is too much emotion,” the former Seleção captain said. “The anthem is a time to listen or sing. But then you have to forget the problems at home, of your child and your woman. This happens too often. The staff are unable to handle these emotions.”
Cafu is another – and the list is considerable – with similar concerns. “I can understand Júlio César crying [after the game],” he said. “Otherwise they should be going on to the pitch with blood in their eyes, ready to perform. Felipe should be working to resolve this.”
Brazil appear to be worrying their public ahead of potentially one of the great occasions of this tournament. “They are a better team than Chile,” Scolari said of Colombia. “Chile have strength and play with a spirit. Colombia are more technical. So there’s no war. Our wars are against Chile, Uruguay and Argentina. We don’t have anything against Colombia and that makes them very happy matches, with no great rivalry. And when you don’t have that war, our players feel more at ease.”
Colombia, however, have much less pressure on them and are playing freely and with confidence. “We have a nice blend of youth and experience,” James Rodríguez, the rising star of the tournament, said. “Our coach has got us all playing and fighting for each other, and for Colombia. We play the Colombian way and keep the ball. We are a solid unit defensively, and then there are players like myself who will try something a bit different – try to beat a man and change it up.
“We can play a number of different ways and can hit people with quick moves. We don’t concede too many goals, and we have one of the best groups of players the country has had over the last decade. We have a great goalkeeper and we can score lots of goals.”
It sounds like pretty much the perfect team, whereas Scolari continues to face legitimate questions about whether his side are too reliant on Neymar and various other issues such as Oscar’s difficulties playing in a wide attacking role and Fred’s struggles to show he belongs at the highest level.”
Scolari has brought in his psychologist of the last 20 years to help his players and Brazil’s manager said he had asked them collectively whether they felt under too much pressure and wanted him to stop saying he expected them to win the tournament.
“I asked them today. I asked Paulinho and he said: ‘No, professor, there is no extra pressure.’ It is normal.”
Reassured, Scolari had a question of his own to put to the team’s detractors, one he answered himself. “Does Brazil continue with our hand on the cup?” he asked, arm outstretched. “Yes, we do.”