Thiago's tears are talk of the town
If you had shown the headline and picture to somebody just getting off a plane, they'd be excused for thinking that Brazil had just endured the nightmare of being knocked out early from their second World Cup at home. Under the written plea "Get up, captain!" the picture showed a desperate and disheveled Thiago Silva being propped up by manager Luiz Felipe Scolari, tears rolling down the captain's face.
As we all know, that was Silva's reaction to Brazil's nerve-wrecking penalty shootout victory over Chile in Belo Horizonte last Saturday. And that show of emotion spooked a lot of his fellow countrymen ahead of Friday's quarterfinal showdown with Colombia in Fortaleza.
In the past few days, Silva's tears have been the talk of a whole country and have become the evidence of how the Seleção was finding the psychological pressure to deliver Brazil's first World Cup win at home a bit too hard to handle. The fact that the PSG defender was by no means the only man to shed tears on the pitch went unnoticed -- goalkeeper Julio Cesar's waterworks began even before he lined up to parry the first of two kicks in the shootout and Neymar fell face first on the grass as soon as it was all over.
But the man with the armband was singled out -- rather unfairly in his own opinion.
"The pressure to win a knockout game is enormous because you know you're going home if you lose. I am the kind of person who commits heart and soul to what I do and I am an emotional guy. But I am also a guy who has proved his value on and off the pitch. A lot of people in the press are sayings things that are not helpful," Silva said on Wednesday in the prematch news conferences. It was a statement addressed to the sectors of the Brazilian media that questioned, albeit never directly, his emotional state and whether he was fit to keep the captaincy.
While few people actually believe that Scolari would demote the man who wore the armband for much of the past four years, the feeling was hardly confined to the fringes of public opinion.
It is a curious situation for Brazilians, who are hardly known for their stiff upper lips. The great Ayrton Senna, who seemed to possess anti-freeze in his veins while negotiating overtaking maneuvers of 200 mph, wept openly when he won his first Formula 1 world title in 1988, for example; men all over the country also shed a cheeky tear. Ronaldo's sobbing after completing the mother of all personal comebacks in lifting the 2002 World Cup had the same effect.
So why is Silva's case different? Well, for a start it happened during the battle. Secondly, the PSG defender, one of the nicest guys one could ever meet in football, was a victim of his own sincerity. In the chaos of the mixed zone after football matches, he told a Reuters reporter of his plea to Big Phil to move him as far down the penalty takers' list as he could be -- even behind goalie Cesar. That didn't reflect well on him, especially after Silva's partner in the Brazilian defense, David Luiz, volunteered to open up the shootout despite playing 120 minutes in pain due to a back injury sustained in training.
The pressure increased after a poorly organized meeting between Scolari and his staff with trusted journalists, which led to the leaking of the manager's concerns with his captain's state of mind. Both couldn't have tried to look more united while addressing the media at Castelão.
"Scolari didn't question my attitude at any moment. I am a guy who overcame tuberculosis, so my mind is fine. Is it natural of human beings to feel emotional and I will not change because of what people say," Silva reckoned just before the manager chipped in with an anecdote from the days he was Portugal manager.
"You all have heard of a gentleman called Luís Figo, who once was the world's best player. I subbed him out in a quarterfinal against England in Euro 2004 and a lot of people lambasted us because he wasn't seen on the pitch when we won. The truth is that he was back in the dressing room praying in front of Mother Mary's image," Scolari added.
Silva also spoke about Colombia, rest assured. He sounded optimistic about Brazil's chances in the quarterfinal given their opponent's penchant for attacking football, which suits the Seleção's taste for pouncing on opponents who don't respect them.
Apart from arriving a second late to cover for Dani Alves and prevent an Ivica Olic's cross that Marcelo bundled up into the net in Brazil's opening game against Croatia, Brazil's captain has hardly put a foot wrong on the pitch. Beyond Neymar, Thiago Silva's partnership with Luiz has been one of the reasons why the Seleção has climbed back to relevance after their quarterfinal dismissal in South Africa four years ago.
Still, Silva should have known better, no matter how unfair it could be that a man is still expected to behave like some kind of imagined macho figure these days. With all the ghosts surrounding Brazil's second shot at the World Cup on home turf, Brazilians of all ages are looking up to him big time in this tournament as an example of serenity among the chaos. We'll know how successful that has been by Friday night.
Fernando Duarte is a U.K.-based Brazilian football expert who has reported on the Selecao for over a decade. Follow him on Twitter @Fernando_Duarte.