Redemption as Brazil are first to qualify for 2018 World Cup

Less than three years after the most humiliating loss in their proud footballing history, resurgent Brazil have become the first team to qualify for the World Cup in Russia.

Brazil's forward Neymar celebrates after scoring in the 3-0 win against Paraguay in Sao Paulo. Picture: Miguel Schincariol/AFP/Getty Images
Brazil's forward Neymar celebrates after scoring in the 3-0 win against Paraguay in Sao Paulo. Picture: Miguel Schincariol/AFP/Getty Images

With a convincing 3-0 victory over Paraguay on Tuesday and results going their way elsewhere in South American qualifying, the Brazilians ensured they’ll join hosts Russia at the World Cup next year.

The squad is still largely
made up of players who endured the 7-1 trashing by Germany in Belo Horizonte in the 2014 World Cup semi-final.

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That result meant many fans treated the players with disdain. And the road to qualification was rocky in the beginning. Dunga’s surprising appointment as head coach after Brazil’s home humiliation, alienated many fans. Frustration continued to build with a quarter-final defeat by Paraguay at the 2015 Copa America.

Elimination in the group stage at Copa America Centenario in the United States in 2016 spelled the end for the hugely unpopular Dunga.

A new Brazilian saying was even coined during that grim spell: “Every day is a new 7-1.”

Governing body the Confederação Brasileira de Futebol didn’t just need a successor for Dunga, it needed to find a national hero. The most popular choice was Corinthians coach Tite, who had been overlooked after the 2014 World Cup debacle.

Tite was not in charge of the Brazil team who won home gold at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, with Neymar back in fine form, but his advice was surely heeded. According to the players, that triumph gave Brazil some confidence back.

When the World Cup qualifiers resumed in September last year, Tite’s team was ready.

A 3-0 win in Ecuador was followed by a 2-1 home victory over Colombia and, with a 3-0 victory over Argentina in the same stadium where Brazil had been humiliated by Germany, the coach’s stock soared.

Results and style have become so impressive that Brazil secured one of the top four South American direct places at the World Cup with four matches left in qualifying.

They have become a team to fear again, as adversaries such as Uruguay’s coach Oscar Tabarez acknowledged. When Tite took over, Brazil were sixth in the table. Now, the coach, who has made the contemporary Brazil team more like the Brazil of old is in celebration mode.

“Thank you, my good God. I will have a caipirinha [cocktail] this big,” Tite said, spreading his hands.

Brazil no longer depend solely on Neymar, and can play without teenage target man Gabriel Jesus and still score goals. Their defence has conceded only two goals in eight matches. Tite still lacks experience of coaching against teams from outside South America and there is the ever-present spectre of corruption scandals affecting the confederation. But the momentum is clearly with the Selecao.

“Everything changed,” said winger Marcelo. “You can see the atmosphere, how much players are giving. Everyone is working hard in each training, giving our lives.”

Under Tite, Brazil have won eight straight matches to secure 24 more points, taking their total to 33. Second-placed Colombia have 24 points in total from 14 games.

Neymar is also different, more mature. In the 4-1 thrashing of Uruguay last Thursday, he gave the world a moment of revelation. Before he scored Brazil’s third goal, Neymar could have gone down in a challenge with defender Sebastian Coates, who had already been booked. Instead of diving, though, the Barcelona star stayed on his feet and netted the best goal of the night.

“There were many fouls on me,” Neymar said of the Paraguayan defenders. “But I don’t care anymore. They can hit me as much as they want. It is the only way they will stop me.”

Some of the veterans of that 7-1 loss to Germany are key to Brazil’s success, too. Marcelo, wing-back Dani Alves and midfielder Paulinho are all regulars. And they want to avenge the humbling defeat.

“We are just getting started,” Paulinho said. “Adversaries better watch out because 
Brazil is coming with it all.”