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Jun 29, 2014

Narrow win makes Brazil uneasy

Brazil's Julio Cesar shares his joy and relief following Brazil's dramatic penalty shootout win over Chile.

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil -- The mood among Brazilian newspapers this morning is a mixture of frustration at the team's performance and relief over their dramatic victory against Chile. "Brazil gave their worst performance of the World Cup," writes the Folha de Sao Paulo, before focusing on Julio Cesar's transformation from villain of the country's 2010 World Cup exit against Holland into yesterday's hero.

Respected journalist Juca Kfouri says that "among all the errors of this difficult, painful World Cup campaign," coach Luiz Felipe Scolari made an inspired decision by putting his faith in Cesar in Saturday's 3-2 win on penalties (following a 1-1 draw). Kfouri also recognised how close Brazil came to defeat when Chile substitute Mauricio Pinilla crashed a shot against the bar in the dying seconds of extra time. "We were close to the inferno, and between you and me, we probably deserved it."

The paper also tells the story of Roberto Reis, 68, who had twice suffered pre-heart attack symptoms and one heart attack, all "related to watching football." On medical advice, Reis stopped watching Brazil games in 1982, choosing to play Patience on his computer during matches instead, although the dramatic end to Saturday's game dragged him back to the TV to watch the final Chile penalty.

"When Brazil lost to Holland in 2010, the number of heart attacks in Brazil was 28 to 30 percent higher than during the other Brazil games," says the cardiologist Nabil Ghorayeb. One supporter at the Mineirao was taken to the hospital Saturday, suffering from heart pains, while another died from a heart attack while watching the game in a bar outside the stadium.

Mauricio Pinilla's drive off the woodwork in the closing moments of Chile's round-of-16 clash with Brazil raised heart rates throughout the host country.

Also in the Folha, 1970 World Cup winner Tostao said that Brazil "got through, but played badly. It wasn't a great surprise. Collectively, Chile have the better team. But individually, Brazil have two great central defenders and Neymar." His colleague Paulo Vinicius Coelho wrote that "Brazil need to rethink their style, and get their midfield back, or they won't get through the next round."

Off the pitch, the paper publishes the results of a survey by research agency Datafolha that reveals that 90 percent of fans at the Mineirao yesterday were from Brazil's wealthier social classes and that 67 percent considered themselves white. There has been considerable debate in Brazil over the social makeup of the home crowds at this World Cup. According to the survey, the country's growing lower-middle class, which represents almost 50 percent of the population, comprised only 9 percent of the crowd at yesterday's game.

"Hail, Cesar" is the cover of Brazil's leading football daily Lance. Inside, Cesar says that he dedicates his performance to "my mum, my dad, my wife, my kids, my teammates and the coaching staff, and 200 million Brazilians."

Less gushingly, former Brazilian referee Jose Roberto Wright criticises the performance of English referee Howard Webb. "The English referee was a disaster," he writes. "It's inexcusable that such an experienced referee could ignore an obvious penalty for a foul on Hulk, and then ludicrously rule out a perfectly good goal."

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Worse still, according to Wright, Webb's display was not the result of simple human error, but of a wider, more sinister scheme: "The CBF [the Brazilian FA] needs to demand independent referees. I believe there's a plot to make sure Brazil doesn't get to the final." The esteemed former referee does not speculate as to who might be behind such a dastardly plan. Both Lance and the Folha de Sao Paulo report that fans were given "hymn sheets" containing lyrics to new terrace chants, as Brazilian supporters try to escape their reputation of only singing one song: "Sou Brasileiro, com muito orgulho, com muito amor" ("I'm a Brazilian, with lots of pride and lots of love"). The Folha says that the initiative was not a success, with the new songs failing to catch on.

Cesar is also the highlight for two of Brazil's other big papers. "Julio Cesar saves Brazil," is the front page splash on Rio's O Globo, while Estadao, from Sao Paulo, runs with "Julio Cesar guarantees Brazil's place in next round." The latter also speculates that Neymar may not be fit for the daunting quarterfinal tie with Colombia.