Brazil were approaching their second Confederations Cup match with a sense of relief, after a crucial 3-0 win over Japan.
“We are relieved because this is a very short tournament. The first stage has three matches and it is almost compulsory to win the first, because otherwise things can get complicated from then on,” striker Fred told DPA late on Saturday in Brasilia.
Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari had a similar view, and noted that the three goals give his men “the chance to qualify” even if they lose one match.
“Scoring that many goals is a cause for joy, because they give us more confidence in our group and we can take a few more risks,” he said.
The match against Japan was crucial for the Confed Cup hosts to set off on the right track.
In recent years they have had a difficult relationship with their fans, the dreaded “torcida,” and even Scolari had warned ahead of the game against Japan that in this tournament and in next year’s World Cup it would be “bad to play at home” if the crowd did not support Brazil.
Brazilian fans had booed their superstar, Neymar, in recent friendlies. And the way they booed Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in Brasilia’s National Stadium ahead of the Brazil-Japan match must have sent shivers down the spines of at least some home players: it did not sound like an easy crowd to please.
Within three minutes, however, a brilliant half-volley from Neymar worked wonders on several levels. It was good to restore his own confidence after a spell of 845 minutes without a goal, it calmed down his team—mates and the fans alike and avoided unnecessary tensions in that match, and it paved the way for a crucial win in the first match of the tournament.
“This win takes a big weight off our shoulders,” said Jo, who scored the third goal. “We are all very happy because the fans supported us till the end. I think if we do our job well on the pitch, the support of the ‘torcida’ pours down from the stands.” The win bought time for Scolari and his men ahead of Tuesday’s clash against Mexico in Fortaleza. However, there is no time to relax, since Mexico are indeed a sort of bete noire for the South American football giants.
“They are a team who have always made things incredibly difficult for Brazil, but now we stand before a new story, a new page, and we are going to try to start to change that,” Dani Alves said.
His team-mate Fred shed some light as to why Mexico may be problematic for Brazil, beyond the fact that they have a technically-skilled and fast team.
“Since they are a traditional rival, there ends up being more equality on the pitch,” he told DPA.
Six players in Brazil’s Confederations Cup squad -- including young stars like Neymar and Oscar and veterans like Marcelo and captain Thiago Silva -- were also in the squad that lost to Mexico the final of the London 2012 Olympics and thus failed to get a gold medal in football that the winners of a record five World Cups still lack.
That was a major upset, and Brazilian players are determined to do better this time around.
“The secret for that not to happen again is to play as we are playing now. This is a different tournament, with different players, and our team is playing well. That’s why we hope to beat Mexico too,” Oscar said.