WORLD CUP QUALIFIERS
From ridiculous to sublime, Tite lifts Brazil into confidence zone
Sao Paulo — Little more than a year has gone by since Tite took over as coach of a Brazil side still reeling from embarrassing exits in the World Cup and Copa America, but in that short time, he has transformed the team into favourites for Russia 2018.
No one could have imagined just how influential the former Corinthians coach would be, but nine wins in 10 World Cup qualifiers are just reward for a return to the form that won them a record five World Cup titles.
"There is no questioning the enormous quality of Brazil’s players, Tite and backroom staff," the normally cautious former World Cup winner Tostao wrote before the final two qualifiers against Bolivia and Chile.
"The team is ready."
"We are strengthening, consolidating and growing," Tite said when announcing his squad for this week’s games. "We’re not in the comfort zone stage, but rather a confidence zone stage."
He has retained several players who misfired under Luiz Felipe Scolari during the 2014 World Cup and his successor Dunga, but he transformed the team’s front line with the introduction of attack-minded youngsters Philippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus. In midfield, he recalled Paulinho and Renato Augusto, his former charges at Corinthians.
With Real Madrid’s Casemiro an automatic choice to anchor the team and Neymar still the undisputed talisman, the side is settled and there are no major disagreement over the first 11 for the first time in years. Tite’s task before next June is mostly deciding who will support those leading men.
The problem, if there is one, comes with Brazil’s customary overconfidence. They are the only side to have played in every World Cup and even after the 7-1 hammering by Germany in the 2014 semifinals on home soil, they believe they are special.
Just as in 2006, when Brazil sailed through the qualifiers with players such as Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldinho and Adriano, they go to Russia as one of the clear favourites.
But Brazil were knocked out at the quarterfinal stage by France and overconfidence was one of the reasons cited.
Tite is a master of playing down expectations and — crucially in a nation that famously has 200-million coaches — he commands the respect of both players and the news media.
That has given him an authority that few Brazil managers this century have enjoyed and he has used it to warn that their outstanding form is no guarantee of success.