Football is a whole world in itself, a democratic sport that brings some feelings that are impossible to describe to people who do not follow it. Within football there are also things that are passed down from generation to generation, just like in a country in the real world.
Each great football country has its own characteristic, its own way of seeing football and that, in turn, forms how football is being played in that country, how a national team relate to their supporters, how the media analyses the games and much, much more. But one thing is for sure: it does not matter how long football has been around, no one in any country will ever understand football 100%. There is always something new to teach us, in every single country, no matter how good or poor or passionate.
Despite the many differences between these countries there are also many similarities. All of the great nations play to win the World Cup and all want nothing more than to lift the trophy in front of their fans. The funny thing with football is that there can only be one winner – but that doesn’t mean that the losing finalists or a team that have gone out in the semi-finals have done something wrong. They may have done everything in their powers but just not had the necessary quality.
For a football team to be successful, just in a developed society, you need its people – ie, players – to work together to achieve something special. In real life you need people to collaborate to evolve. That goes for every country. But in Brazil we have something different that I cannot see in other countries.
There is an enormous amount of passion around football in Brazil and the way everyone in the country analyses the national team is radical, at times simplistic and often overwhelming when it comes to criticising the players and the coach, making it seem as if football is very easy for those who play, especially if they are professional players. In Brazil it seems to be difficult to accept that football, as well as life, evolves.
And so Brazil are under enormous pressure before their last-16 game against South Korea after losing their third group game against Cameroon. They also lost two more players to injury, Alex Telles and Gabriel Jesus, but Neymar should be fit again. The fact that they are playing South Korea, who everyone thinks they should beat, only adds to the expectation, the pressure and the sense that Brazil have to go through. It would have been different if they were facing Portugal or Uruguay from that group.
In Brazil, in fact, victory against South Korea is seen as an obligation and that is a great weight for the coach, Tite, and his staff to be carrying and in their discussions with the players. This team would not be forgiven if they were eliminated in the last 16 by South Korea. It may seem to the people in front of the TV that this is the kind of pressure Tite and the players should be able to cope with but it is, in fact, the biggest problem they are facing.
That does not mean that the players are afraid. Of course not. On the contrary they will be looking forward to it. To reach the level they are at they have had to work extremely hard and overcome many, many challenges. They are professional players but – and here is the thing – unconsciously they will be aware that they cannot afford to make a mistake. That can be enough to stop you from making the right decision in the game, to make you avoid doing a one-touch pass because of the fear of making a mistake. Somewhere the brain tells you: “You cannot make a mistake!” whether you want it to or not.
With confidence and with all their key players fit, I would say that Brazil are the best team in the world, but the weight of that national team jersey is often very, very costly for the players, their personal life and even for their families.
In Brazil an 18-year-old can make his professional debut for his club and be booed by the entire crowd 15 minutes into the first half, just for making a wrong pass or something else that is detrimental for the team and even be taken off because of the supporters’ anger. This will hopefully make that 18-year-old stronger, but it comes at a price too. Some players cannot cope.
We learn in Brazil that second place is the same as finishing last and that is not fair. That is a tough environment for a player (and that includes the Brazil Olympic team) and puts a very high bar around the analysis of the national team. It makes it very, very demanding.
On the other hand we are obsessed by winning. As a consequence we would never see what happened with Belgium, for example, who did not believe they could win the tournament. That is incomprehensible for a Brazilian. We enjoy every second of the World Cup and we want it to pass very slowly. We would never do what Belgium did and I am proud to say that. We would play to win, even if our mothers were on the other side.
Brazil have reached the last 16 of a World Cup and as a former player I know how important it is to respect the opponent, especially one as good as South Korea, who have an exceptional player in Son Heung-min. That respect is fundamental to go further.
I hope Tite is able to pick the 11 best players currently at his disposal and that he is clear and precise in his analysis and instructions to the players to ensure that they take another step towards a possible sixth World Cup.