Belo Horizonte – Labelled the villain after Brazil bowed out of the 2010 World Cup, Julio Cesar broke down in tears as he was toasted as a nation’s saviour after the hosts scraped past Chile on Saturday.
The 34-year-old goalkeeper saved penalties from Mauricio Pinilla and Alexis Sanchez to set Brazil up for a 3-2 shoot-out win against their South American rivals in Belo Horizonte that took them through to the quarter-finals of their own World Cup.
Before that he produced a superb save to deny Charles Aranguiz in the second half to help ensure a nerve-jangling tie remained level at 1-1 after 90 minutes and through extra time.
That Brazil avoided the humiliation of being eliminated before the quarter-final stage for the first time since 1990 and maintained their record of never having lost at home to Chile in 27 meetings was in large part down to the goalkeeper.
“This match proves that if you have a dream you must chase it,” he said after collecting his man of the match award at the end of an emotionally draining afternoon.
He was applauded out of the press room at the Mineirao Stadium and dominated the front pages of the Brazilian press on Sunday morning, being described as “Our King” and Brazil’s “Saviour”.
The enormity of the occasion had got to the goalkeeper even before the penalty shoot-out as he broke down in tears. And he did so again during a TV interview at the end of the match.
“I cried because several of the players came to give me their support and tell me positive things and I couldn’t contain myself,” he admitted.
It was quite a turnaround from four years ago, when he came for a Wesley Sneijder cross and missed as Brazil threw away the lead and lost 2-1 to the Netherlands in the quarter-finals in Port Elizabeth.
“A lot of questions were asked when I was called up,” he said. “I prepared myself well physically and psychologically and I want to thank the staff and my teammates for having confidence in me.
“It was difficult to come out of the 2010 World Cup labelled as a villain but I have always had their backing.
“I have experienced some great joys in my career but this is special after 2010.”
Before the last World Cup, Julio Cesar was at the peak of his powers, having just helped Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan win a domestic double as well as the Champions League.
But at club level his career has gone downhill in the intervening period. A move to Queens Park Rangers turned sour and he found himself frozen out at the London outfit, having to buy his own gloves and train in a local park just to maintain his fitness.
Even a move to Major League Soccer side Toronto FC has seen him make only seven appearances, but Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari made him his first choice at last year’s Confederations Cup.
He was named that tournament’s outstanding goalkeeper as Brazil lifted the trophy, and now he is hoping for a repeat performance in the one competition that really matters to this proud footballing nation of 200 million people.
“I am a professional who is very happy with his career,” he insisted on Saturday. “What would crown this would be to lift and kiss the World Cup.” – Sapa-AFP