Twenty years have passed since Brazil last hoisted the FIFA World Cup trophy. Most of the current team members would have been in primary school when Cafu and his men lifted the trophy in 2002, held jointly in South Korea and Japan.
The closest Selecao have come in recent World Cups was when they reached the semi-finals as host nation in 2014, but they were drubbed by Germany 1-7.
In Russia 2018, the five-time champions bowed out in the quarter-finals losing to Belgium, making it a long way for the South American giants.
The new generation Brazil players, with 16 of them making their World Cup debut, face confident Serbia in a tough Qatar 2002 campaign opener at the Lusail Stadium today.
Brazil have exited the last four World Cups early after defeats by European heavyweights – France and Zinedine Zidane in 2006, the Netherlands and Arjen Robben in 2010, Toni Kroos and Germany in 2014, and Belgium and Kevin De Bruyne in 2018.
Brazil have found some of their mojo again, going unbeaten en route to Qatar, scoring 45 goals and conceding just five. As impressive as the qualifying campaign was, Brazil and coach Tite know its significance will be limited when playing the very best at the World Cup.
“The pressure is natural. Brazil have the biggest history in soccer and with that legacy always comes the pressure. Pressure is inevitable,” Tite said yesterday.
Tite said it is not his responsibility that Brazil have not won the tournament in 20 years.
He said he can only be accountable for the last four years, his only complete cycle since Brazil lost against Belgium in the quarter-finals in Russia in 2018.
“In Russia we only had two years to fix the team and I came to the rescue. Now it is different because I had the opportunity to build the team the way I wanted,” Tite said.
“That’s why my feeling today is completely different than four years ago. I’m not that nervous because all the work has been done,” the 61-year-old Brazilian said.
Veteran defender and captain Thiago Silva, who is playing in his fourth World Cup, said he is better prepared this time than in previous editions.
“I am prepared and very motivated,” Silva said yesterday.
“Sometimes you have to live through tough experiences to learn. I’m more at ease now. This is the best version of Thiago Silva and I’m in the best stage of my career,” said the 38-year-old Chelsea centre-back.
Brazil is going with fit and firing Neymar, and a well-balanced squad around him.
“I think Neymar is coming into this competition in great form,” said Silva.
A 30-year-old Neymar arrives fresh from a fantastic start to the season with Paris Saint-Germain in which he has scored 15 goals in 20 games.
“His preparation this time has been different. In 2014 he got injured just as he was playing so well, and in 2018 he came into the tournament in a different way because he had a serious injury so hadn’t played much. This time is different and he has not been injured. Neymar is a lot better prepared.”
Talking about Brazil’s players that have never played a World Cup match, Silva said: Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo have already shown they can handle high-stakes pressure for their clubs. Both were key members of the Real Madrid team that won this year’s UEFA Champions League title by beating Liverpool 1-0 in Paris. They will help Neymar because they can divide up the responsibility and create space for him. The mixture of experience and youth is very important,” the 38-year-old Chelsea centre-back said. The favourites Brazil can’t underestimate Serbia, who boast a rich vein of form in its third appearance at the global showpiece as an independent nation after debuting in South Africa in 2010.
A well-knit Serbia finished their qualifying campaign by beating Portugal away and topping their group and played six UEFA Nations League matches this year and won four of them.
“It will be a tough game. An extremely difficult game. But the game starts 0-0. And we are not afraid of anyone in the world. Not even of Brazil,” said Serbia coach Dragan Stojkovic, who was appointed in February last year to succeed Ljubisa Tumbakovic after Serbia failed to qualify for Euro 2020, yesterday.
Serbia’s winger Filip Kostic is in danger of missing the match due to a thigh injury.
“We already have 99% of the line-up in mind. But what I can say is that there is still a big question mark over Kostic,” Stojkovic said. The Juventus player has only done running practice in Qatar so far.
Brazil’s Neymar (centre), Lucas Paqueta and Thiago Silva (left) during a training session at the Al Arabi Stadium in Doha yesterday. (Reuters)
Serbia’s coach Dragan Stojkovic leads a training session of his team at the Al Arabi Stadium in Doha yesterday, on the eve of their Qatar 2022 World Cup match against Brazil. (AFP)