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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 July 2018

Tite tasked with keeping Brazil 'mentally strong' ahead of World Cup quarter-final with Belgium

Pressure and expectations are rising the further into the tournament Brazil go, and their manager wants to keep his players calm

The Brazil squad, including Neymar, centre, take part in training ahead of the World Cup quarter-final clash with Belgium. Toru Hanai / Reuters
The Brazil squad, including Neymar, centre, take part in training ahead of the World Cup quarter-final clash with Belgium. Toru Hanai / Reuters

KAZAN // David Beckham once remarked that he loved playing with Brazilian footballers because they always appeared to be so at ease.

“It could be one of the biggest games and it’s like they’re playing on the street,” said the former Real Madrid midfielder. “It’s literally like they are on the beach playing football.”

For the Brazil national team at least, things have changed since Beckham’s time playing alongside the likes of Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos more than a decade ago.

The country’s 7-1 humbling by Germany at the 2014 World Cup on home soil stemmed from the players appearing to succumb to expectation and external pressure. It has only served to increase the demand on this year’s squad.

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They struggled in their opening game against Switzerland, a 1-1 draw that manager Tite explained was down to feeling “too much pressure and anxiety”.

Slowly, performances have improved yet having now negotiated their way to a quarter-final with Belgium on Friday night, much like the airtight pot that cooks the South American country’s famous feijoada stew, the need to stem the pressure is only increasing.

Tite is renowned for his desire to constantly develop. As well as having attended training sessions at Arsenal and Real Madrid, he spends a lot of time tapping into other managers’ knowledge.

During a chat with Argentine manager Carlos Bianchi, the only man to win four Copa Libertadores titles, he learnt the value of creating an environment that favours mental balance.

It is why he selected Brazil’s basecamp in the beach city of Sochi, where the players have the opportunity and freedom to explore and ease off.

“If you ask me what is the greatest challenge of a World Cup, it's the mental fatigue,” Tite said on Thursday in Kazan. “The pressure is immense, it's extraordinary. It proliferates through the family. I tell them don't listen, don't watch, because there is a lot of psychological pressure.

“[Bianchi] told me one of the virtues of a great team is to be mentally strong and have balance and focus. With all his knowhow and experience, that really got imprinted on my mind.

"Now I tell my players we need to exercise common sense: neither euphoria nor the fear of losing. Keep your heads cool.”

Brazil defender Miranda, sat alongside his manager, did not appear particularly at ease in front of the world’s media, but insisted he is “used to the responsibility” of playing knockout matches at an elite level.

The Inter Milan centre-half will be reunited with Marcelo in defence, who Tite confirmed will be recalled after missing the 2-0 last-16 win over Mexico through injury. Fernandinho is also expected to replace the suspended Casemiro.

“It will be a great match,” Tite said. “Both teams excel with beautiful football. Belgium have great players and a great coach as well. I've always put them in the group of potential champions and it's the same now.”

Opposing manager Roberto Martinez meanwhile repaid the compliment, referring to Brazil as “the team of the World Cup”, but believes his side is ready to progress to the final four for the first time since 1986.

“The talent of Brazil in open play is clear to see, so you need a complete performance,” he said. “But after two years working together with the national team, I think we are ready to do it.”