Debates have raged, not only in the lead up to, but throughout the group stages, about this pragmatic, powerful and efficient Brazil side that Tite has built.
Should Alisson or Ederson start in goal? Can Willian and Philippe Coutinho play in the same team? Can Neymar live up to the tag of craque?
But arguably the biggest question mark hung over the middle of the defence. Miranda has been ever-present since Tite took the job, while Marquinhos and Thiago Silva have been locked in a duel to start alongside the Inter Milan stopper.
Three games into the World Cup and, with just one goal conceded, it is very much a battle the veteran Silva has won.
A remarkable comeback
The comeback is quite remarkable for a man who was being written off after two well-documented failures on the international stage.
At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the 33-year-old was seen as arguably the best central defender on the planet. Handed the captain’s armband by then-coach Luiz Feliz Scolari, Silva simply went to pieces amidst the intense pressure of leading his country at home.
At the Arena Corinthians in São Paulo, the robust defender was in tears before the national anthems were even out of the way.
When the stakes were raised further, in the Round of 16 tie with Chile and the nerve-wracking experience of a penalty shoot-out after a fraught 1-1 draw, Silva famously turned his back on the spot kicks, tears welling up once again.
Silva was missing for the 7-1 mauling at the hands of Germany in the semi-final, up there alongside the 1950 final defeat as the country’s most disastrous World Cup showing but, on a personal level the downward spiral continued for the PSG man 12 months later at the Copa América.
Having been paired with Paraguay in the quarter-finals and a goal to the good, Silva needlessly flung a hand at a high cross, conceding a penalty which allowed Paraguay to draw level. Brazil would go on to be eliminated after a penalty shoot-out.
His best days behind him?
While at that time there did not look to be a ready-made replacement for the skipper, there were fears that his best days were behind him; the scars of 2014 still all too evident in hesitant displays in the yellow of Brazil.
Tite took charge of the Selecao after the one bright moment of the last decade – the country’s first ever Olympic gold medal. For his first game, away to Ecuador in a World Cup qualifier, it was Marquinhos sitting alongside Miranda in a comprehensive 3-0 win.
The veteran has played second fiddle to his younger counterpart for much of Tite’s two-year reign, but, when push came to shove, it was the old hand that got the nod.
On 3rd June, just two weeks out from their World Cup group opener against Switzerland, the boss put Silva in alongside Miranda for a friendly against Croatia at Anfield. Brazil won 2-0 and Silva has never looked back.
The man known as “O Monstro” in his homeland – no prizes for guessing the translation – has been the best centre-back at the tournament thus far and his numbers make for impressive reading.
In three games he has recovered 23 balls, made 14 blocks and committed just two fouls. To top it all off, he scored Brazil’s second in a comfortable 2-0 win over Serbia in Brazil’s final group game, becoming the first central defender to score in two editions of the World Cup in the process.
The confidence shown in him by Tite has also been on display. For the win over Costa Rica on 22nd July, Silva was once again handed the captain’s armband almost a year after the last time he wore it in a 1-0 friendly defeat to Argentina – the only reverse during Tite’s time in charge thus far.
Worthy of praise
But the resurgence of the defender leaves the Brazil coach worthy of praise; in a few short weeks, he has rescued an international career which, while never quite looking dead and buried, was in grave danger for being remembered as one of the key failures of Brazil’s 2014 mission.
More than any other player, it was Thiago Silva who encapsulated the lack of emotional control that went a long way to derailing the country’s bid to win a first World Cup crown on home soil.
Now, Silva is back playing in the country where his career almost came to a premature end. While playing for Lokomotiv Moscow back in 2005, the former Milan blocker was diagnosed with tuberculosis, which saw him miss four months and come close to bringing the curtain down on a promising career at the age of 20.
Now, he has captained his country at two World Cups, scored at two World Cups and has proven, through robust yet assured displays throughout the group stage that past setbacks have not sent him off course for long.
Perhaps more than any other player, it is Silva who embodies the steely grit and determination which lies at the base of Tite’s success as a coach, not only with Brazil, but during his time with Corinthians which saw him gain national recognition in the country.
Timing is everything
Silva has now joined an elite group of players to have led Brazil at two World Cups – Martim Silveira (1934 and 1938); Bellini (1958 and 1962) – Brazil’s first two World Cup triumphs; Dunga (1994 and 1998) and Cafu (2002 and 2006).
Following the 2015 Copa América, the renowned defender spent 15 months in the international wilderness.
But he has come back a different, more measured player, putting in some of his finest performances in that yellow shirt.
They say timing is everything. Thiago Silva’s rollercoaster ride is testament to that.
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