Many Brazilians Are Afraid, Very Afraid
Brazilians have been cheering their national team passionately this World Cup but there is reason enough to take the Colombian challenge in quarterfinals seriously.
The doctor thinks the patient is critical. The taxi driver sees trouble ahead. The personal trainer is worried.
Brazil may have put aside its problems to cheer its national team in the World Cup, but across the nation on Thursday the mood on the streets, and in restaurants and offices, and on park benches and buses was concern and dread that the home team's quarterfinal match against Colombia on Friday might be its last of the tournament. (Five reasons why Colombia can overcome Brazil hoodoo)
"I'm afraid," said Gorete Bittencourt, a doctor from Sao Paulo. "I'm afraid of our players, of who we are going to put on the field."
Brazil narrowly escaped against Chile last week, when it needed to survive a penalty kick shootout in a match many Brazilians expected to be a walkover. On Friday in Fortaleza, a confident Colombia team looms as Brazil's toughest opponent, with the breakout star of the tournament - James Rodriguez - threatening to outshine even Brazil's Neymar. (Related: Neymar says psychology lessons helping team)
"People have much more doubt about the Brazilian team now, about reaching the final," said Roberto Tavares, a personal trainer at a gym in Brasilia. "The atmosphere here is a little different. Before the start of the tournament, before the Chile game, there was much more confidence in the air." (Also read: Brazil coach Scolari like a father to his team)
"I am very, very nervous, very afraid - both about the game, and also that I might have a heart attack tomorrow if it's another game like Saturday's," said Claudia Reis Ferreira Gomes, 35, who runs a corner stand selling newspapers and snacks. The stakes are much higher than simply soccer. Public anger over the cost of the World Cup has been largely dormant since the tournament began. But if the national team is ousted, that anger could explode again.
The players could be feeling the pressure. Players such as Neymar and the captain Thiago Silva have been seen in tears on the field, drawing criticism from former Brazilian stars for their emotional displays.
"The team is crying when they're singing the anthem, when they get hurt, when they shoot penalties!" the former World Cup winner Carlos Alberto said. "Come on! Stop crying! Enough!"
Brazil's coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, brought in a psychologist who has worked with the team for a special session this week, an acknowledgment that the players - and the tournament - had reached a critical moment.
But in a defiant news conference on Thursday Scolari railed at his critics and denied that the emotional displays were a sign of weakness.
He also restated his confidence in Thiago Silva and in Brazil's chance to take the title.
"There are seven steps," Scolari said of the progression to the final, "and we are going onto the fifth."
Scolari admitted last year that "the minimum we have to do - the minimum - is win" the country's sixth World Cup championship. And last month, the head of Brazil's soccer federation, José Maria Marin, emphasized the pressure on the team and the coaches, saying that "if we lose then we all go to hell."
A record sixth title, the so-called hexa, is the overriding goal of the entire nation. It is printed on shirts and painted on streets and chanted in the stadium each time Brazil takes the field. But some less-than-dominant efforts by the team in its four games, and some less-than-impressive performances by Scolari's lineup choices, have meant that even as Brazil won its first-round group fairly easily a seemingly contradictory blend of pessimism and confidence was growing.
"Brazil is not playing well enough to defeat Colombia," said Josa Alvaro, a Brazilian who works for Black & Decker in Rio. "Colombia deserves the victory. But I think Brazil will win."
Eliete de Lima makes a living as an ambulatory snack vendor in Brasilia, selling cakes and snacks she makes at home. Currently she is selling Brazil shirts, as she has done during every World Cup for the past 32 years. On Thursday, she was among those wearing a brave face.
"Here is the thing," she said, "during World Cups, when Brazil doesn't play well, they win the Cup. When they play well, with too much confidence, they end up losing the Cup. We have seen this before."
Saint-Clair Milesi, the communications director for the World Cup's local organizing committee, seemed to hold back a wink when he stressed that local officials had no official position. "It's always nice for the ambience that the host country could go as far as possible."
Milesi's job means he will continue on to the final next weekend either way. His countrymen are less certain. Those who once expected victory are merely praying that Brazil does not lose.
"I'll consider a 1-0 Brazil win a whooping," said Bartolomeu Campos Araujo, 56, a taxi driver in Salvador, "because on the pitch Colombia is better."
Luciano Henrique Batista, 26, a real estate agent, said: "I don't think we'll be champions this year. We'll pass this next phase, but playing as we are, if we meet Germany, France or Argentina in the final, we'll lose."
© 2014 New York Times News Service