Teamwork Will Help Brazil Shake the Ghosts of 2014

This past spring, Brazil became the first team to officially qualify for the 2018 World Cup. The Seleção was dominant once again, blazing through qualifying by going undefeated for 13 matches. That Brazil qualified came as a surprise to absolutely no one, but the manner in which they did so showed such class and dominance that they’re already a trendy favourite for the tournament in Russia.

The team qualified with its 3-0 win over Paraguay back in March. With a team that features an attractive blend of youth and experience, Brazil hopes this squad can dispel the spectre of the 2014 World Cup. The 2014 semi-final match still looms over the team like a dark cloud. The 7-1 loss to Germany (the eventual champions) matched the record for Brazil’s worst loss ever, tying a 6-0 defeat to Uruguay in 1920. It was also the worst ever loss in a World Cup semi-final or final match.

It’s important to note that the squad was missing Neymar, its key playmaker, in addition to defensive captain Thiago Silva. Even so, the historic thrashing was unexpected by everyone, and Brazil will have a lot of making up to do in 2018. Now, Neymar is back with a vengeance and playing some of the best football of his career. As of this writing, he has recorded six goals during qualifying and has become an integral piece of Barcelona’s lethal attacking trio. With Neymar healthy and an influx of new blood, this is a team that can wipe away the past.

However, past stars have warned against putting too much weight on the shoulders of only a few star players. Even Pele has spoken about the emphasis of playing as a team rather than relying on one superstar. A common criticism of the 2014 squad was its over-reliance on Neymar, and how the team’s attack seemed lost when he went out with an injury during the quarter-final against Colombia.

Thankfully, there’s a bevy of exciting new players that should make this one of the most thrilling Brazilian teams in recent memory. Philippe Coutinho has established himself as one of the world’s best midfielders, and the team now has a reliable striker in 20-year-old Gabriel Jesus. Roberto Firmino has also established himself as a crafty, world-class midfielder and should help to bring more pace and creativity to the Brazilian side. With veterans and youngsters working together, this team has the potential to truly bring back the joga bonito of Brazil that supporters have longed for.

Of course, Germany will continue to be another side with aspirations of World Cup glory. 2014 marked the team’s fourth championship with Mario Götze’s 114th minute goal in extra time to defeat Argentina. Some pundits have pegged the Germans as a popular team to win it all, and another World Cup would tie them with Brazil for the most trophies. Like Brazil, Germany has brought a host of new talent to the international stage, and the prospect of a rematch between these two legendary sides is tantalising.

In the 2018 World Cup, Brazil will be a team on a mission, and nothing less than a sixth Jules Rimet trophy will satiate their fans. For a team with such a history of excellence, the 2014 debacle was inexcusable and something that everyone will be looking to forget. With this promising roster, Brazil can truly begin to look forward, and now that qualifying is done, it’s time to get ready for the real thing in a year’s time.

Brazil’s Storied History in Penalty Shootouts

At the Rio 2016 Olympics, the next generation of incredible Brazilian talents overcame Germany in a penalty shootout. Not only did this win the nation’s first-ever football gold medal at the Olympics, but it also continued a grand history of penalty shootouts for Brazil, pointing to further success for the first team in future penalty shootouts. Ever since the penalty shootout was first implemented in 1976 by FIFA, per the Telegraph, Brazil have engaged in nine shootouts in World Cup and Copa America knockout stages, winning six and losing three. Aside from the fact that Brazil have regularly been able to assemble a superb team of talents for the big competitions, there is another underlying feature of their game that has enabled them to do so well in the very high-pressure situation.

Brazilians Amazing Under Pressure

As recorded by Transfermarkt, Brazil have won their only shootout in a last-16 match; lost all three of their shootouts in quarterfinals; won all three semi-final shootouts; and both of their penalty shootouts in finals. The Brazilians hold a 75 percent success rate in World Cup shootouts and a 60 percent success rate in the Copa America, but just how have they been able to hold their nerve? In an interview with sports betting company Betway, Roberto Forzoni – a sports psychologist who has worked with Andy Murray, Fabio Capello, West Ham United, and others – explains the problem of choking with sports players, and how to avoid it. Forzoni explains that footballers in the UK become “mentally tough from an early age because they’ll get released from clubs – competition is fierce,”and that “they become more accustomed to accepting that things can go wrong and have the ability to come up with the solutions.”

The same can be said, if not more so, for Brazilian footballers, as the competition is far greater in the South American nation. In the 1994 World Cup final, Romario – who scored Brazil’s second of the shootout – explained that the situation was tense: “Yes, I was nervous about taking a penalty during the shootout, but only because I’d never taken one before for the national team. I never practised penalties.”

Brazil’s Lauded Penalty History

In the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals, Brazil took France to penalties after a 1-1 score line. During the game, Zico – who was voted the best player in both World Cups prior – missed a penalty in the game which would have put Brazil 2-1 up. In the shootout, Socrates missed the first shot and France scored their first three. Branco made the score 4-4, Michel Platini then missed France’s fourth penalty, but Julio Cesar missed for Brazil, allowing Luis Fernandez to seal the win for the French. Brazil’s first penalty shootout didn’t go their way, but they made up for it when the occasion arose again.

The next penalty shootout was a huge one for Brazil, taking place in the 1994 World Cup final against Italy – the first World Cup final to be decided by a penalty shootout – following a 0-0 game through regular and extra time. Neither Italy nor Brazil scored on their first attempt, with the next four attempts hitting the back of the net. On Italy’s fourth shot, Daniele Massaro’s effort was saved by Claudio Taffarel, which Dunga complimented by scoring Brazil’s fourth try. Roberto Baggio missed for Italy, handing Brazil the World Cup.

Brazil then went on an impeccable three perfect shootout streak, not missing a single shot through three high-pressure occasions. They defeated the Dutch 4-2 in the 1998 World Cup semi-final shootout to make it to the final. In the 2004 Copa America semi-final, Adriano levelled the game at 1-1 before being one of five successive Brazilian scorers in the shootout to defeat Uruguay. Then, just four days later, a 2-2 final against Argentina in which Adriano scored the equaliser in the 90th minute, went to penalties. Adriano – who ended as the tournament’s top scorer by a very long way, per Statbunker – stepped up and put his nation 1-0 up after Argentina missed their first. With three more successful spot kicks, Brazil triumphed to win the Copa America.

Brazil to Continue Their Penalty Prowess

Since the induction of the penalty shootout Brazil have proven time and time again that they have the mental toughness to prevail in such a high-pressure situation. Despite having one of the most football-fanatic nations on their collective back, Brazilians have shown that they can keep a cool head, which is likely credit to the high-level of competition experienced when they’re developing their football skills.

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