What's the first thought that comes to mind when you hear Brazil and football?
Joga Bonito? Garrincha beating a defender for pace on the right flank before pausing in wait for him to catch up and then beating him again? Ronaldo's goals? Romario's flair? Neymar's effervescence? Advertorials of Brazil's national team playing football on an airport to while away the time? Flamboyance? Clips of Ronaldinho carroming the ball off the crossbar to himself? Samba music? Pele's guile? That impossible banana kick from Roberto Carlos against France? Ronaldinho grinning?
Over the years, successive generations of football teams from the South American nation have forged an identity for themselves, not just for scoring a lot of goals or for winning a lot of things, but for the way they played. With flair and flamboyance. And a smile on their face to boot — the kind of vibe that wants even those in far-flung corners of the world want to root for them.
The current U-17 team which will come to Indian shores at the U-17 World Cup in October are no different. They have already made headlines for winning the U-17 South American Championship earlier this year, where they scored 24 goals and let in just three. They even thumped the next team in the standings, Chile, 5-0 for good measure.
But it is the style of football that his team displayed at the tournament that U-17 team coach Carlos Amadeu values over everything else.
“You need to respect the identity of your country. Brazilian football is known internally and externally for being beautiful. So we cannot escape it. I believe in winning matches, but playing beautifully is the main priority. Brazil’s U-17 team excel at being competitive, but we have to play good football,” Amadeu told Firstpost in an exclusive interview.
“It is a team which has been competing against great teams in the world, in Asia, Europe and South America. It has been behaving very positively and playing quite offensively. We play a brand of competitive but pleasant football, where players always seek opportunities to score but also defend very well. The main characteristic of this team is to work very evenly between attack and defence.”
At the U-17 South American Championship, the Brazilian squad were an embodiment of the flair and flamboyance that have become hallmarks of the national teams of the South American country.
More importantly, their football exuded a joie de vivre historically associated with their football teams.
While Vinicius Junior was at the centre of attention for the world’s media at the tournament, given the backroom tussle between world football giants like Real Madrid and Barcelona to sign him, players like Alan also reiterated their class.
The footballing talent in the team is undeniable. But given how in elite sport, a lot of preparation is also psychological, Amadeu said the Brazilian federation laid particular emphasis on mental toughness.
“This psychological issue is fundamental to our football. Especially with regard to finding a balance: Our players know not just how to deal with success, but also with failure. Being mentally strong is key to playing high-performance football. This is a characteristic that we are looking for in the choice of footballers even at this level. This is one of the prerequisites to be a part of the Brazilian national team. In fact, we work on players when we detect that psychological toughness is something they need to develop.”
Just like their senior level compatriots, the Brazilian team are also a force to reckon with at the U-17 level, having won the prestigious title thrice — in 1997, 1999 and 2003 — besides finishing runners-up on two other occasions (1995, 2005). In fact, they’ve missed out on qualifying for the extravaganza just once, back in 1993. It is at this stage that they have discovered many of their future stars. If it was Ronaldinho who dazzled in the 1997 edition in Egypt, Neymar gave glimpses of his mercurial self in the 2009 chapter in Nigeria.
Given their almost perpetual presence at the competition, what does qualifying for the U-17 World Cup mean to the gifted bunch of youngsters?
“It is easy and at the same time difficult to answer that question, but I think it is a dream for all athletes to compete in a World Cup. It will be my second World Cup and it makes me proud to be participating in a select group with only 24 teams. I feel privileged,” Amadeu added.
Given the amount of talent at their disposal, Amadeu expects big things from his team when they compete at the U-17 World Cup in October. But he is quick to admit that it will not be as easy as they had in the South American championship. Last time around in 2015, with him at the helm the team had only made it to the Last-8 where they were beaten by eventual champions Nigeria.
“We expect to reach the final at the World Cup, and then to win the title. But we know that it is very difficult as the competition has great teams. The event is one where African countries have dominated. In fact, they have more titles than South America and Europe together. So teams from there should be favourites. But we will work to bring this World Cup to Brazil,” the 51-year-old said.
But more importantly, it will be critical that they play beautifully.
Like Garrincha, Pele, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and many others before them.
Updated Date: Sep 28, 2017 16:08 PM