Brazil's bittersweet comeback twice as good
For about an hour at the Salt Lake Stadium, the roar of a 66,000-strong Sunday crowd had gone to a low murmur of disapproval. It seemed like the Brazilian juggernaut at the U-17 World Cup was going to come to a grinding halt in the quarter-final itself, against their most recent nemesis in global football, Germany.
A goal down, thanks to a first-half penalty, they were running out of time and the Germans showed no signs of giving in. Then, with 20 minutes to go, substitute Weverson found space and essayed a thundering left-footed swipe from the edge of the box.
"I was concentrating all along, since the warmups," Sao Paulo's Weverson, who came on for Luan Cândido in the second half, said later. "When I got my chance, I was just thinking of scoring and the goal brought a lot of emotion. I have scored some great goals in my club, but this is the one we are celebrating right now."
The goal brought the Salt Lake Stadium -- a majority of the crowd rooting for the men in yellow -- to its feet but there was still work to be done. The second half had been a bruising encounter, with German left-back Josha Vagnoman, their captain Jann-Fiete Arp and substitute defender Jan Boller all feeling the after-effect of some late, crunching challenges.
It was in a melee after the last of these incidents that Paulinho, with a volley six minutes after Weverson's goal, showed his ability to rise above the ordinary, a quality that perhaps explains Brazil's success in international football.
Brazil coach Carlos Amadeu could not help but smile like a proud father when talking about the two goals. "This is the beauty of football. Weverson, who had lost his place, risked everything in that shot. Paulinho's goal was a beautiful one too, and he always appears in moments like this. He did something similar against Venezuela in qualifying," Amadeu said.
It had begun briskly for Brazil, for whom striker Lincoln, with the help of Alan just behind him and Brenner and Paulinho on either side, were running rings around the German defence in the first quarter of an hour in the game. There was a vicious Alan shot in the sixth minute that could have been the exclamation mark to cap off that start, but it would bounce off the upright to the right of German goalkeeper Luca Plogmann.
The first real mistake in that half would come from the Brazilians, as left-back Luan Candido, who started the game in place of regular starter Weverson, gave away a ball and Germany's impressive John Yeboah drew a tackle to win a penalty.
Arp doesn't often miss from the spot. 1-0 to Germany and the crowd went quiet.
"We started the match a little lost and confused. They [Germany] played long balls from their defence to our defensive line. When we had the ball, we were not playing our football," Paulinho said later. His teammate Lincoln exemplified that lack of clarity in the last minute of the first half.
After being put through by Alan, Lincoln, inside the six-yard box, held on to the ball with the finesse of a ballet dancer but was left swinging at thin air when he went for a shot, with German centre-back Yann Bisseck taking the ball away from him with surgical precision.
Brazil needed a change of plan and at half-time Amadeu took all of his troops, substitutes included, inside the Salt Lake Stadium tunnel and came out with a substitution ready. "We substituted Luan with Weverson. We put midfielders as wingers, and our full-backs came into the middle. Our forwards dropped back a bit and they got confused because of that," Amadeu said of his changed tactics in the second half.
The South American champions now face England in the semi-final in Guwahati on October 25. They have already shown considerable fortitude in coming back from 1-0 down against both Spain, in their opening match, and now Germany, with Paulinho scoring the winner in both matches. But he and his teammates want to live in the present.
"We knew it would be a difficult match. It was another day that we had to overcome everything ourselves. We are really happy, but now we have another tough match.
"It will be war again."