World Cup Postcard - Come on you Brazilian boys in blue

Sat, Jun 23 2018

Neymar gets on the ball against Costa Rica Credit: Macdara Ferris (ETPhotos)

Our reporter Macdara Ferris was in the St. Petersburg Stadium on Friday to see Brazil keep their World Cup title hopes alive thanks to two late goals against Costa Rica and some shrewd managerial skills from their Head Coach Tite.

The Brazilians swept into St. Petersburg on Friday and thanks to some late drama weren’t swept out into the Gulf of Finland destined to exit the competition at an uncharacteristically early stage. 

They still have work to do to get out of their group but their destiny is at least in their own hands. Their charismatic head coach Tite was a relieved man at the end of the game particularly as we seemed set for the first scoreless draw of the tournament. 

However we got more late goals as has become the norm here in Russia it seems. The 91st minute goal came from Philippe Coutinho who is maybe the real star of this Brazilian side. 

Having correctly been denied by VAR for a typical flagrant dive, Neymar would get an even later goal and would be overcome with emotion at the final whistle. 

It was a brilliant day to be in the St. Petersburg Stadium in whatever seat you have managed to procure. Now I’m fairly sure you don’t want to hear this reporter complain about his seat allocation in the stadium when he is getting the chance to see the Boys from Brazil play but…

The upper tier in the main stand from penalty box to penalty box is pretty much decked fully out in desks for the media but with one of the tournament favourites in town – along with the biggest media entourages I’ve ever seen – there wasn’t quite enough desks in the media tribune for everyone.

For the previous couple of games in this stadium extratime.ie had been at a desk three rows from the back but this time I’m allocated a seat in an overflow area beside the media tribune but in amongst the fans. 

It is a decent seat mind you two rows from the front but without a desk, no access to power nor the benefit of a TV monitor for all the replays. I know, I know. It is a tough life. 

Before every game FIFA issue a list of expected guests from the government, FIFA and the local organisation committee. For this game the Costa Rican Ambassador to Russia was in attendance, along with other dignitaries such as FIFA Council Member David Gill, ‘FIFA Legend’ Roberto Carlos and Vassily Gerello who is a Mariinsky soloist known to any Opera buffs out there.

With Sepp Blatter in the city as a guest of the Russian Government, I didn’t spot him on that list nor was he up near the overflow seats beside the media tribune. 

Around the stadium there were massive pockets of Brazil fans wearing their famous canary yellow shirts – even if their team were decked out in an all blue kit (for the first time since their 1994 semi-final against Sweden). Meanwhile it looked like the locals were supporting Costa Rican as they have the same national flag colours.

Los Ticos had come to contain Brazil. Their manager Oscar Ramirez after the game said that “our idea was to control the opponents with and without the ball” but in reality they were without the ball for most of the game – having only 34% possession. When they did have the ball, their passing accuracy was just 74% (compared with Brazil’s 90%). 

Tite had taken off Willian at half time introducing Douglas Costa and later Roberto Firmino and that certainly helped their cause and Brazil’s pressure eventually paid off as the game ticked into injury time. 

The last time I was allocated an overflow press seat was when St. Patrick’s Athletic beat Sligo Rovers in Richmond Park to win the 2013 League of Ireland title. 

When Philippe Coutinho scored in injury time for Brazil, unlike when Greg Bolger popped up to score for Pat’s in 2013, I didn’t end up getting a random hug from a supporter who was celebrating the goal. 

The post-match press conference etiquette seems to be that the losing manager comes in first. The man of the match also attends but for the previous game in this stadium when Russia beat Egypt 3-1, Denis Cheryshev was busy peeing into a bottle and couldn’t attend.

You can insert your own Russian state-sponsored doping joke here if you require.

This time around Coutinho comes in fresh from scoring his second goal of the tournament and he emphasises the belief that Brazil manager Tite has instilled in the team to keep going to the final whistle.

“I’m happy with the man of the match but more important than that I’m happy with the win. We didn’t give up on the result and we were rewarded in the end. The Professor always highlights you need to be mentally strong from the beginning to the end.” 

The Professor or Head Coach Tite speaks next and he captivates the packed media centre. With his slicked back grey hair and demenour, he comes across like a politician, or maybe more like a preacher. His gold chain with a couple of crosses sit above his open white shirt. 

He answers the questions not vaguely looking at the back of the room but he looks left and right catching reporter’s eyes. He points. He gesticulates. He preaches.

He describes himself as “a very emotional guy”, as could be seen from his tumble during his goal celebration with the injury time winner. 

We have nearly 45 minutes of entettainment as Tite talks to his people. I’m somewhat surprised he doesn’t get a round of applause when he concludes (as Carlos Queiroz had received after Iran’s late win over Morocco in this same venue last week). I nearly feel like giving him a bualadh bos myself!

He works the room as he leaves. Shaking hands, offering a smile and even posing for a few media selfies but I leave my phone in my pocket. I can’t imagine this would have been the scene if Costa Rica had clung on to the clean sheet that they had taken into injury time. 

“The margin for error is very slim” was one of Tite’s comments. Indeed, there are very small margins between winning and losing but perhaps this charismatic man will make the difference as far as Brazil are concerned.