SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Brazil’s hard-fought win over Mexico in the last 16 of the World Cup is the kind of victory that transforms a team that thinks they can win the tournament into one that knows they can, one of the last Brazilians to lift the trophy has told Reuters.
Every side that goes on to become world champions has a ‘Eureka’ moment, Juninho Paulista, the former Middlesbrough and Atletico Madrid midfielder who took home a winner’s medal in 2002, said.
It might be a come from behind win, an unexpected victory over a superior team, or even a piece of luck, the shot that hits the post and goes in the net rather than out for a goal kick.
Brazil’s moment in Russia was weathering Mexico’s early storm and coming back to win the tie, Juninho said.
“This team struggled a bit, they didn’t expect to draw the first game,” he said in an interview. “Then they got it together and they got two wins. And then against Mexico, it’s the knockout round, you can’t lose, that worry is on your mind, and Brazil got through it, they passed that emotional test.
“Brazil were very strong mentally, they suffered the first 20 minutes but after that they composed themselves. I think Brazil now go into the (quarter-final) match against Belgium with a lot more confidence. They are now more sure of themselves, even though they are aware they are facing team that will be more difficult to beat than Mexico.”
“They know that they are good players,” he added. “They haven’t yet had to play in top gear. Technically they are solid. I think now they are solid emotionally.”
Brazil are the only team to win the World Cup five times and with Germany, Spain and Argentina already out they are favourites to make it six in Moscow on July 15.
After a difficult 1-1 draw with Switzerland in their opening game, Brazil won their next two group games 2-0 against Costa Rica and Serbia before beating Mexico by the same scoreline in the last 16.
They now face Belgium, the tournament’s highest scorers, in the quarter-finals in Kazan on Friday.
Juninho said the ‘Eureka’ game for the 2002 team came against Belgium in the last 16 in Japan.
Marc Wilmots had a goal chalked off with the scoreline at 0-0 and Belgium never recovered. Rivaldo and Ronaldo each scored in the second half to give Brazil the win and set them on their way to victory.
“There was an incident when Belgium scored and the ref chalked it off and that could have made things complicated for us,” Juninho recalled.
“So we struggled a bit and when we won we thought, ‘we got through that, we passed a test’. That strengthens the feeling in the squad.”
Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Christian Radnedge