Prior to the World Cup, while Brazil were still riding high on a wave of optimism and belief following nine successive victories, two problem areas were identified in Luiz Felipe Scolari's first-choice team.
That of the No. 9—with some justification in hindsight—and the man between the sticks. Julio Cesar did his part to ensure Brazil's progress, saving two spot-kicks in the penalty shootout against Chile in the second round, but he hung up his gloves in the immediate aftermath of the tournament.
That leaves the path free for Dunga to start the selection process for his own No. 1. Whilst names like Neto and Rafael Cabral could be competitors in the not too distant future, at the time of writing the new coach would be hard pressed to find a stopper in better form than Cesar's second in command at the World Cup, Jefferson of Botafogo.
The Rio de Janeiro club are battling a seemingly ever growing list of off-the-field problems. Last week, there was almost a mutiny in the camp when squad players, who had not received a salary for three months, learnt that young prospects Doria and Gabriel had been paid without informing their team-mates, as reported by Brazilian daily O Dia (link in Portuguese).
On Sunday, they slipped into the relegation zone following a 2-0 defeat to Atletico Paranaense. The team have managed just three wins from 14 league games all season, and they were eliminated at the group stage of the Copa Libertadores.
Amidst the chaos, Jefferson has been a rock. He has for four years now been seen as an international-class goalkeeper but has yet to establish himself as the out-and-out absolute starter for the Selecao.
At 31 years of age, his hour may have come. His excellent form at club level over a number of seasons has been recognised, and there were several pundits arguing that the first-choice at the World Cup should have been Jefferson, rather than Cesar, whose preparation consisted of a few months on loan at Toronto.
Jefferson's domestic competitors, Victor and Diego Cavalieri, are not as consistent as the Botafogo captain. Whilst Cavalieri may possess a far more reliable pair of hands than several Liverpool supporters care to remember, he is still prone to lapses in concentration that have let his team down at crucial times.
Last year, in the Copa Libertadores tie between Fluminense and Olimpia of Paraguay, he positioned himself too far in front of his goal line and saw a free-kick sail over his head and into the net.
Should Dunga take the logical step and start next month's friendly against Colombia with Jefferson in goal, its significance will stretch beyond sporting reasons. The country, for the time being at least, will have a black goalkeeper.
Whilst that may not be such a news breaking event in itself, it breaks through an uncomfortable notion.
It all goes back to Moacir Barbosa and the 1950 World Cup final. The Vasco da Gama goalkeeper was judged responsible for Uruguay's winner, when Alcides Ghiggia was allowed to sneak a shot inside the near post to shock the hosts and deny them a first World Cup crown.
It was a moment that haunted Barbosa for the rest of his life. In Ruy Castro's excellent biography on Garrincha, the Brazilian writer also touched on the goalkeeper's woes. How a mother pointed him out in a shop to her child with the line, “That's the man who made all of Brazil cry.”
How he burnt the goalposts from the Maracana at his home in front of guests he had invited to a barbecue, the symbol that had destroyed his life. How he died, penniless, tainted by that one moment in time.
From 1950, it was a 56-year wait until another black 'keeper was first-choice at a World Cup when Dida stood between the posts at the 2006 tournament in Germany, where they were eliminated at the quarter-final stage by France. Brazil are yet to win the World Cup with a black player in goal.
Now Jefferson's chance to prove himself may be just around the corner, but Russia and 2018 are a long way off, by which time the man Botafoguenses call “The Cat” will be 35. Will he be marked by an unspoken stigma?
According to football blogger Eder Ramos de Oliveira there is no longer a fear or superstition attached to the skin colour of the national goalkeeper.
“Now it is just folklore. Perhaps after that defeat [the World Cup final in 1950] there was a certain prejudice that accompanied that position, but not anymore.”
Which is just as well for Brazil. Jefferson is comfortably the best option in the talent pool of Brazilian goalkeepers.
All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.
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