Brazil prepare for 'difficult' Germany game in rainy Kolkata
It is an unusually wet October afternoon in Kolkata. The rain begins with a steady downpour sometime around two in the afternoon and grows heavier over the next three years, giving the Salt Lake Stadium an eerie feel two days ahead of a big U-17 World Cup quarter-final here between Brazil and Germany.
The skies clear up a bit, and there is a sudden rush of movement from the gathered journalists, as a bus with the Brazilians backs in to the parking lot next to one of the practice pitches.
There are only nine outfield players and three goalkeepers who have come for this optional practice, though coach Carlos Amadeu and his support staff are at full strength. Among the regular starters in the team, only two have made it: goalkeeper Gabriel Brazao from Cruzeiro and Sao Paulo defender Weverson.
"Everybody expects a great game when it comes to Brazil against Germany, and we are putting in hard work to prepare for this match, especially after Brazil beat Honduras. We started to think about this match only after that, and with the help of our technical staff, we are training and recovering well. We expect to make a great game of this," says Brazao, who only turned 17 on October 5, after reaching Indian shores.
Brazao says this Brazil U-17 team has the good wishes of their senior compatriots, citing Roma goalkeeper Alisson, defender Jorge from Monaco and Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus as those that have sent videos and private messages encouraging the junior team. Brazao's personal philosophy to the game also suggests an extension of the style of the football normally associated with his country.
"Football is an adult play. We focus on winning, but you have to be happy and enjoy yourself when you are inside the game," he says. "(You must play) with responsibility, thinking of the opponent and with respect. But without happiness inside the match, it is nothing for us. It is most important to enjoy the game."
Coach Amadeus sets up a couple of interesting drills after the basic warm-ups, which involve getting the outfield players to focus on accuracy while passing with both feet, and moving into different angles of a circle among themselves. He then gets five attacking players in the blue practice kit to come up against four defenders in bibs, and organise them in what would typically be a set-piece situation. Amadeus and his assistants then float in curving balls from different areas of the pitch, and the boys in bibs and the goalkeeper behind them have to deal with the aerial threat posed by the attackers.
"They (Germany) have a high level of technique. We have seen some videos of their games in the competition. We know they are really hard (opponents), and we have to be prepared because we know it will be a difficult match," says Brazao, who has not conceded any goal in the last 355 minutes since an own goal against Spain in the tournament opener. "Our defensive system starts with our forwards. They are helping us a lot -- running and marking. That's why teams are not shooting at my goal that much. But when it comes to me, I am preparing really hard to be ready."
Brazao, who says he has experience of shootouts from having stopped four penalties in the course of a Cruzeiro-Palmeiras fixture earlier in the year, says his first World Cup memory is of 2010. "Brazil was doing really well and lost because of one bad half against Netherlands. It was unfortunate, but it happens in football and it made me sad at the time," he says.
When asked about his memories of the 7-1 defeat at the hands of Germany for the senior team at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, he simply deadpans," It's been a long time, I don't remember anything. But if we think about the 7-1 or the Olympic medal [where Brazil beat Germany in the 2016 football final], it's all in the past. It's now history and we expect to make a great game. We know it will be a great game."
As the Brazil session moves into overdrive, the rain returns and with a vengeance too. The ball is zipping about and Brazao and his fellow 'keepers Lucao and Yuri Sena are forced to deal with a zipping ball that sometimes throws sharp drops of water into their eyes.
"We are prepared to play in all weather, because we have similar weather in Brazil," says Brazao, who is hoping the crowd in Kolkata will get behind his team the same way they did in Kochi and Goa. "Thanks to God for everything that is happening in my life now, but my focus is just on this World Cup. After this, whatever comes will be a consequence of whatever I am doing here."