The sun nearly went down earlier than expected for Brazil in the city whose name in English means ‘the beautiful horizon’.
So far the World Cup has been about established names either living up to or justifying their reputation. We knew Lionel Messi’s abilities or that of Neymar, Luis Suarez, Rafael Marquez, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie. Even James Rodrigues had his followers though it is in Brazil that the 22-year-old he showed what magic is contained in his left foot. We didn’t know enough about Guillermo Ochoa till the Mexican goalie proved a roadblock Brazil couldn’t get around.
Cesar celebrates Brazil victory with his teammates. (AFP)
And we had forgotten about Julio Cesar. He is nearly 35, plays for Toronto FC and whoever remembers a goalkeeper from Brazil unless it is Moacyr Barbosa who lived a lifetime of persecution for the last match of the 1950 World Cup. Yet it is for Cesar that Mineirazo wasn’t added to the football lexicon where, at 64, Maracanazo lives in good health.
Over the years, Brazil have had goalkeepers who could hold their own among the world’s greats. There was Manga who came to the 1966 World Cup; Castilho who earned 699 caps for Fluminense; Emerson Leao, who won the 1970 World Cup as a reserve; Rogerio Ceni; Dida and, of course, Barbosa whose one game erased a great career.
This match, Cesar said, has given him the strength to go to the next stage. “I would like to dedicate this moment to my mother, father, wife, children and to 200 million Brazilians,” he said and the Brazilian media broke into an applause. In this real life story, the villain had become a hero again.
Julio Cesar saves a penalty kick by Chile's forward Alexis Sanchez during the penalty shootout. (AFP)
At one time Cesar too was on that list. In 2009, he even won a Ballon d’Or nomination and helped Inter Milan win the Champions League. But till Luiz Felipe Scolari stepped in, Cesar, it seemed, was living his own Maracana moment even though it had happened in Port Elizabeth. A second-half collapse had thrown Brazil out of the 2010 World Cup and Cesar got his share of flak.
“I needed to find my psychological balance after that,” said Cesar after taking Brazil to the quarter-finals. “It is difficult to deal with you being called a villain.”
Cesar wept before the penalties at the Mineirao on Saturday because he was overwhelmed by the support he got from his mates. “I am not known to be an emotional person but I could not hold back because of the good things my teammates were telling me. I knew I needed to focus but thank you for giving me the strength,” he said.
Julio Cesar saves a shot on goal by Chile's forward Mauricio Pinilla during the penalty shoot out. (AFP)
When Scolari preferred Cesar to Botafogo’s Jefferson or Atletico Minero’s Victor, both in the squad as second and third goalies respectively, as his first choice, he too had copped it. On Saturday, as the nation learnt to breathe again because of Cesar, he said: “I am criticised for a lot of things. That’s part of the job as a coach. Julio too doesn’t need to justify anything to anyone. He is doing his job.”
Cesar had nothing but gratitude for the man who backed when many didn’t. “Many people were challenging me being in the line-up. But my performance showed how well I trained...If you have a dream, never give up. I must thank Felipao, (Carlos Alberto) (Carlos Alberto) Parreira and all the members of the technical staff. They created a comfortable, secure environment. My teammate too were cheering and hoping for me. How many people want me to win the World Cup for what happened there (in South Africa),” said Cesar.
Cesar was understating the obvious when he said the Brazil needed this win but hoped future victories don’t come in tie-breakers. “Our friends and family members may die of heart attacks,” he said only half in jest.