Sunday, 17 June 2018

Roberto Carlos: Brazil will start with a win – and Willian can be one of the stars of the World Cup

"Neymar is going to be ­marvellous in Russia and win the trophy for us. But you know who else is going to have a big World Cup? Willian. People talk about Messi, Ronaldo, Robert Lewandowski and Neymar, but for me, Willian is right up there.

"He’s in really good form and always takes ­responsibility on the pitch. He’s a quiet guy who keeps to himself, but he’s going to surprise a lot of people this summer."

Roberto Carlos is the Sunday Mirror's special World Cup columnist, with yours truly his wingman.

Have a read of his first dispatch from Russia here. 

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Brazil vs Switzerland head-to-head: Patience may be needed as the Seleção get started in Rostov

Let's see how this favouritism thing works out then, shall we?

After weeks of hype, Brazil join the World Cup party on Sunday night, hoping to put down a marker against Switzerland in Rostov.

And while it would be a stretch to call a game against a side ranked sixth in the world (no, me neither) a gimme, a victory is very much expected of the Seleção.

Read my quick head-to-head preview – written with a Switzerland follower – on the Unibet blog.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Brazil and the 7-1: The inside story of the most shocking World Cup match of all time

At what point was it over, exactly?

Certainly long before the sixth and seventh goals, scored by André Schürrle, who must have wandered off to the toilet when the whole "let's not embarrass them" conversation was taking place in the Germany changing room at half-time. The fifth, maybe, or perhaps the fourth, offered up on a platter by a punch-drunk Fernandinho. But no, Brazil's race was already run by that stage. The cameras had already started to pick out tear-stained faces in the crowd, face paint smudging into collars and PTSD on order.

The third or second, then? Those were the goals that turned a bad start into a disastrous one, that knocked the wind out of a nation. The hosts were in a World Cup semi-final and then they weren't, suffocated and subjugated by that endless blur of Kroos, Müller, Klose, Kroos, Özil, Khedira, Kroos, Müller. Or was it over even before the first whistle, that po-faced funeral procession for Neymar betraying some fundamental misalignment between the mental state of the players and the nature of the task at hand? Was there so much emotion, so much pressure that summer – "It was like Brazil had come to participate in the Hunger Games," said Zico – that an implosion was inevitable?

Watching it back now, one cannot help but be reminded of the pronouncements made by José Maria Marin, the cadaverous head of Brazil's football federation. "Only a catastrophe will prevent us winning," he said on the eve of the tournament, to no obvious useful end. "If we lose, we're all going to hell." The words had a macabre slant then. By the time Germany were finished, they had taken on the air of prophesy.

That's the start of a long piece for Eurosport on the 7-1, its impact on those involved, and Brazil's long road to recovery. It includes an interview with Luiz Felipe Scolari and you can read it (or just swoon over the gorgeous artwork) here.

Monday, 11 June 2018

The Tite revolution: How the studious, enigmatic preacher-coach dragged the Brazil team into the modern era

Fatherly, enthusiastic and protective when the occasion demands, Tite is beloved by the players, while his collaborative approach behind the scenes – he has a small army of back-room staff – has also won him admirers.

He goes about his job with seriousness, but also with a smile, which goes a long way. "I would kill for Tite," Marcelo said last year, and he would probably have 22 accomplices if it ever came to that.

From a distance, all of this might seem slightly surreal. This, after all, is a manager who has never managed outside Brazil, let alone in one of Europe's top leagues. Yet while Tite might be a late bloomer on the world stage, his quality has never been in doubt in his homeland.

"I'm not surprised he's doing so well," Scolari, who led Brazil to World Cup glory in 2002, told the Telegraph. "Of course, the Brazil job is bigger than any club job, but Tite has always been a good coach. Always."

Read my piece on Tite and his renovation job with the Seleção on the Telegraph website.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Roberto Carlos interview: 2002, Brazil's hopes this summer and why his best free-kick was a stroke of luck

He called time on his storied career a few years ago, but anyone who knows Roberto Carlos never expected him to slip away in pursuit of a quiet existence.

The Brazilian, whose deadly free-kicks once earned him the nickname Bullet Man, is still speeding through life: there are kids to mentor at Real Madrid, events to attend as an ambassador, television schedules to fill and – of course – football matches to watch. "It's a cool life," he laughs.

He also has family duties to perform: at 45, he has just become a grandfather for the first time. "Being a grandfather is super fun, because when she's busy I get to look after the kid. But being a dad is better than being a granddad! It brings you so much happiness." Carlos, who has 11 children of his own, would know better than most.

For now, though, the diary has been cleared for football's big summer jamboree. The World Cup holds a special place in the heart of all Brazilians and the legendary left-back, who played in three editions and lifted the trophy in 2002, has especially fond memories of the competition.

Roberto Carlos is the Sunday Mirror's World Cup columnist, and before his first piece next week, I spoke to him about his life, career and that free-kick against France. Read it here.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Brazil team guide: Neymar, Tite and a quietly solid defence make the Seleção major World Cup contenders

Brazil and the World Cup. The World Cup and Brazil. It’s a dance as old as time itself.

Yet recent tournaments have failed to provide too much in the way of new material for the highlights reel, shrug-inducing showings in 2006 and 2010 having been followed by the seismic shock of that defeat to Germany four years ago.

On the eve of Russia 2018, however, the Seleção are regarded as one of the standout candidates for the title.

It has been a stunning turnaround, engineered by charismatic preacher-coach Tite, who has restored confidence, refreshed the side and restored a little of the swagger that had been so painfully lacking under his predecessors.

Will Brazil finally seal their much-coveted Hexacampeonato – a sixth title – this summer? See what I think in my Unibet team guide.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Fernandinho aiming for Brazil redemption this summer, four years on from the worst night of his life

Think back to the visceral horror of Brazil's 7-1 defeat to Germany in 2014 and chances are a few guilty faces spring immediately to mind.

You probably remember David Luiz, careering around the Mineirão pitch like the Tasmanian Devil on a sugar rush; Dante, outpaced and outclassed; the comically unthreatening figure of Fred in attack; or maybe Marcelo, rolling out the welcome mat for Philipp Lahm.

But equally culpable – OK, still less culpable than David Luiz – was Fernandinho, whose crass error for the fourth goal was of a piece with a weirdly listless performance.

Four years on, and with two years of Pep-Guardiola-inspired excellence under his belt, the midfielder is looking for redemption this summer. I weigh up his chances in my latest Unibet blog.