Brazil escapes Chile, and fans in Rio let out screams of joy and relief

RIO DE JANEIRO — There are 190 million coaches in Brazil, and before Saturday’s World Cup knockout game against Chile started, each one had an opinion.

“They must have heart,” said Alaide Leone, 62, as she settled in an hour before kickoff with other pensioners in front of brimming glasses of beer and an enormous flat-screen TV under a canopy on a street corner in Glória, a neighborhood in central Rio.

“He is doing an excellent job,” Leone added of the Coach Felipe Scolari, nicknamed “Felipão,” or “Big Phil.” “I don’t know if the players will pick up everything he says, though. They are very young.”

A few miles away in the Laranjeiras area, Rafael Pedrosa, 29, was sitting on the steps at the Cardosão basketball court-cum-samba school rehearsal space, where a big screen had been hung, beers were flowing, a barbecue sizzled, and another group of pensioners in a nearby yard were selling giant hot dogs.

“He is going more of a motivational job than a tactical one,” Pedrosa said of Scolari. Pedrosa, however, said Scolari was not the right man for the job — it should have been Telé Santana, coach of the great Brazil teams of 1982 and 1986. But Pedrosa had no issues with the team’s lineup on Saturday, with attacker Fred in front of an attacking midfield line of three. “We don’t have another center forward,” he said.

Despite the buoyant mood, the sunshine, the all-pervading smell of the barbecue and the DJ that played funk and disco at halftime, Saturday’s game was not an enjoyable experience for anyone involved at the Cardosão. Fans were run through an emotional wringer: joy at David Luiz’s opening goal; disappointment as Chile equalized; frustration as Neymar repeatedly tried and failed to break through Chile’s brick wall of a defense; and finally desperation as La Roja, as the Chileans are called, constructed intelligent attacking moves with precision while Brazil fought and floundered.

On the court, Aluisio Pinto, 67, wearing a Brazil shirt and a narrow-brimmed trilby hat in the colors of his samba school, Mangueira, supported Scolari’s decision to replace midfielder Paulinho with Fernandinho, after the latter scored as a substitute against Cameroon on Monday. “I think Hulk should go, and Ramires should come on,” he added. As it was, Hulk stayed on, had a goal disallowed for an alleged handball and later missed a penalty kick, while Ramires came on but failed to score.

(Dom Phillips/The Washington Post)
(Dom Phillips/The Washington Post)

The joyous roar unleashed after 18 minutes of the first half when David Luiz scored from inside the six-yard box turned to silence when Alexis Sánchez equalized for Chile 14 minutes later. During the interval, Leonardo Valentim, 24, suggested Scolari make changes. “I would take off Fred, who’s not doing anything, and put Jô on. That would turn things around,” he said, predicting a 3-1 win for Brazil.

Chile looked dogged and determined. Brazil looked flustered and unsettled. Jô did come on and Fred went off, but Brazil still did not score. “We have a creative midfield. But we don’t have an efficient midfield,” said Juliana Nogueira, 24, between screams as Brazil struggled to keep possession. Frustration grew as the game went to extra time and a theatrical Chilean dive cost Daniel Alves a yellow card.

The game stretched through 90 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of extra time. When it came down to penalty kicks, the tension stretched tight like a piano wire. When David Luiz stepped up to take Brazil’s first penalty, some fans could not look. He did not miss. Others did — an unusual number, as Brazil failed to convert twice and Chile three times.

But when Chile’s Gonzalo Jara hit the post on the final kick and it was over, there was uproar. People cried openly. Men ripped off their Brazil shirts and waved them around their heads. Others punched the wire fencing surrounding the courts. As Julio Cesar, the goalkeeper who saved penatly kicks and Brazil’s pride, popped up on the screen for his post-match interview, tears pouring down his face, the crowd in the Cardosão court chanted his name.

Across Brazil, parties broke out among the tens of thousands at Fan Fests in host cities, and on the streets. There was as much a sense of relief in the air as celebration – this game was much, much closer than many could bear.

By sundown, Rio was pulsing with the sounds of samba and celebration. Too much emotion already — with much more to come.

Dom Phillips is The Post's correspondent in Rio de Janeiro. He has previously written for The Times, Guardian and Sunday Times.
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