Julio Cesar's Resurrection Can Lift Brazil to the World Cup

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Julio Cesar's Resurrection Can Lift Brazil to the World Cup
Hassan Ammar/Associated Press
Julio Cesar's heroics saw Brazil through a nail-biting penalty shoot-out with Chile

It is the aim of the post-match flash interview. Conducted on the periphery of the pitch moments after the final whistle has blown in a match, it is supposed to capture intensity and emotion, before a player has had time to regain their composure and calm in the sanctity of the dressing room.

After Brazil’s penalty shootout win over Chile in the 2014 World Cup’s opening round of 16 tie on Saturday, goalkeeper Julio Cesar delivered all that any television director could have ever hoped for, and more. Initially talking through his feelings in between eagerly snatched breaths, he briefly faltered, grasped at his Adam’s apple, and then the tears welled up.

“I gave an interview four years ago and I cried," Cesar told Brazilian broadcaster Sportv (as per Sky Sports). "I was very sad, but now I am crying because I am happy.” At the last World Cup, the then-Internazionale goalkeeper had been on the crest of a wave, having just completed a historic treble with Jose Mourinho’s team. He was arguably the best goalkeeper in the world.

Then came that quarter-final in Port Elizabeth against the Netherlands, when a mix-up between Cesar and Felipe Melo handed the Dutch an equaliser in a game during which the favourites had looked in control. Cesar’s Inter teammate Wesley Sneijder went on to seal the win for Bert van Marwijk’s side, and the goalkeeper’s world came crashing down.

One of Brazil’s squad in that tournament later painted this writer an evocative picture, of a stunned squad all in tears in the dressing room after the match, simply unable to comprehend what had happened. Two years on, in November 2012, Cesar confirmed the seismic nature of Brazil’s exit from the competition.

“It was a shock,” he told me in an interview for The Independent, “not just for the players, but for 190 million Brazilians. For me, it was unbelievable.” Cesar’s star waned from there, with his Inter form suffering. After a series of errors, he began the habit of walking home from the San Siro, leaving his car in the stadium’s parking lot.

Later followed an unlikely move to Queen’s Park Rangers. Despite gleaning personal credit from his spell in the Premier League, the project Cesar had signed up for was a failure. Aiming for the Champions League, they ended up with a return to the Championship.

Unwanted post-drop on sizeable wages, Cesar ended up making a loan move to Major League Soccer side Toronto, in order to get some playing time ahead of the World Cup. He has Luiz Felipe Scolari’s faith to thank for keeping his place, just as he had for returning to the selecao in the first place after falling out of favour with Mano Menezes.

Andre Penner/Associated Press
Even when out of the international picture, Cesar always believed he would make a selecao return

In those early months at QPR, a Brazil recall looked like a very faint possibility indeed. Cesar, however, never stopped believing. "That's what I'm striving for,” he said in that interview with The Independent in 2012.

“To play a World Cup in Brazil,” continued Cesar, “to win a World Cup, is what we're all hoping for but, especially for me, the motivation is to get back into the national team."

It looks like Cesar’s faith in himself is being repaid after that heroic shootout display against Chile. “Before the penalties,” captain Thiago Silva said (again, via Sky Sports), “Julio told us to be confident on penalties because he would save three penalties.”

The goalkeeper may have fallen slightly short of that, but he is on the road to redemption well-worn by Brazilian goalkeeping greats including Claudio Taffarel. “Only God and my family know what I went through and I still do,” continued Cesar in the flash interview.

Only victory on July 13 will sooth that irritation, and it is clear how determined Cesar is to do so.

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