July 4 (Bloomberg) -- Brazil captain Thiago Silva said his team’s mental state remains strong amid a national debate sparked when players cried before and after their last game.
Domestic media and former national team players in the country of 200 million have questioned whether coach Luiz Felipe Scolari’s team is cracking under the pressure of bidding to win a record-extending sixth title on home soil. The quest continues with today’s quarterfinal against Colombia.
Chile came within inches of eliminating the hosts in the round of 16 when Mauricio Pinilla struck the bar in the last seconds before the June 28 game finished 1-1. After Brazil won in a penalty shootout, Thiago was among the players who fell to the turf in tears, while others, including star striker Neymar and David Luiz, sunk down to pray.
“It’s a very natural thing in human beings to be emotional,” Thiago, who asked not to take a penalty kick against Chile, told reporters in Fortaleza. “This never bothers me at any point on the pitch. On the contrary, I think it helps me.”
The tears have been described as a weakness by former national team icons including Zico, who played in the 1986 World Cup, and Carlos Alberto, captain of the 1970 championship-winning team.
“The team is crying when they’re singing the anthem, when they get hurt, when they shoot penalties. Come on. Stop crying. Enough,” Carlos Alberto said in an interview on Brazil’s Sport TV. “This shows the team is not 100 percent ready. When you are prepared to win, everything happens automatically. When you’re not, you cry when the result is not positive.”
Scolari invited sports psychologists led by Regina Brandao to evaluate each player before the tournament. Brazilian media said she returned after the Chile game because Scolari was concerned about the emotional toll on his team. The coach denied that, saying it was part of a pre-tournament plan for her to come back after the second round.
“The team is very calm,” Thiago said. “We are very motivated for the match with Colombia.”
In 1950, the last time Brazil hosted the tournament, it needed to tie the final game with Uruguay to win its first World Cup. It lost 2-1 at Rio’s Maracana Stadium, and the game continues to be described as a national tragedy and referred to as the Maracanazo, or the Maracana Blow.
Scolari, who led the team to its last title in 2002, and his assistant Carlos Alberto Parreira have said before and during the tournament that the team will win. Jose Maria Marin, the head of the national soccer federation, said “we will all go to hell” if Thiago doesn’t lift the trophy on July 13.
“Yes we continue, all those statements are fantastic,” Scolari said. “The statements couldn’t and shouldn’t be different. Our population, our supporters don’t expect any different. They want us to tell them what we want and how we are going to get it.”
Colombia is enjoying its best World Cup, reaching the quarterfinals for the first time thanks to the tournament-high five goals scored by forward James Rodriguez.
About 50,000 Colombians traveled to Brazil for the three group games, while tens of thousands poured into the streets of Medellin and Bogota after each of the team’s four straight victories. President Juan Manuel Santos decreed this afternoon a “civic day,” allowing public employees to watch the game. He’s traveling to Brazil.
Scolari said the game will be different from the tense encounter against Chile, which he described as a war because of the opponents’ tough approach and the nations’ rivalry.
“Our wars are with Chile, Uruguay and Argentina,” said Scolari. “We have nothing against Colombia. Our matches against Colombia are friendly matches. When you don’t have that war, our players feel more at ease.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Tariq Panja in Fortalez, Brazil at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at firstname.lastname@example.org Rob Gloster, Dex McLuskey