Brazil isn’t sorry for dancing into World Cup quarterfinals

Argentina and Brazil share a 750-mile limit and a long tradition of World Cup excellence, having won seven titles together and reaching the semi-finals together in four of the last five tournaments.

No other two neighbors even come close to this level of performance.

But for all they have in common, there’s a big difference in how they’ve welcomed that success. While the cheerful Brazilians danced and sang their way to the last eight at this World Cup, where they meet Croatia on Friday, Argentina showed all the joy and spontaneity of someone preparing for a root canal treatment ahead of the quarter-finals with the Netherlands prepared.

France play England, while Morocco, the biggest upset of this World Cup, take on Portugal in the other quarter-final on Saturday.

Brazil were wild, boisterous and swaggering in Qatar, especially in the round of 16, where they played at a different level from South Korea and clinched their eighth straight World Cup quarterfinals. Argentina, on the other hand, have been under pressure since opening their tournament with a loss to Saudi Arabia, which ended the 36-game unbeaten streak and raised questions about his talent and fitness.

Argentina's Lionel Messi (left) and Angel Di Maria warm up during a training session in Doha, Qatar on Thursday.

Argentina’s Lionel Messi (left) and Angel Di Maria warm up during a training session in Doha, Qatar on Thursday.

(Jorge Saenz/Associated Press)

For Brazil, the return of Paris Saint-Germain striker Neymar for the knockout stages brought back the pride and confidence that had waned without him. The world’s best team arrived in Qatar as big favorites to win their sixth championship and have done little to diminish that.

So his coach Tite laughed and smiled through a press conference on Thursday, where the only criticism he faced centered on that of his team samba Goal celebrations and the rude way a press officer treated a stray cat who came to Brazil’s training center.

“It’s Brazilian culture when a goal is scored. That’s how we do it,” Tite said of his team’s on-pitch danceathons, which critics called unfriendly. “We will continue to do it our way because we don’t disrespect anyone.”

Brazil’s only defeat of the tournament came in the final game of the group stage when Tite rested many of his starters, including Neymar, who missed two games with an ankle injury. However, with Neymar on the field, Brazil are almost unbeatable having lost just one of the last 32 games he has in the starting XI.

And in Qatar, Brazil have had more shots on goal than any other team and haven’t fallen behind in regulation time.

But no team has played like Croatia. The 2018 runners-up have lost just once in their last 11 World Cup games, a setback suffered by France in the final four years ago. However, Croatia needed extra time or penalties to progress in their last four elimination games, including their round of 16 win over Japan.

None of this will change the way Brazil play, Tite said. The team have used different formations in each of their four games here, underscoring the fact that Brazilian football moves at its own pace and rhythm. It’s something that’s celebrated, savored and savored in Brazil, where it’s referred to as that Jogo Bonito, the beautiful game. It’s more than a sport, it’s the character of the nation; a rocking melody by João Gilberto played with a soccer ball.

“They have their own way. They celebrate. They are festive. I wouldn’t want to see my players dance. It’s a different culture.”

— Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic on Brazil’s players

“Brazilian identity started a long time ago,” Tite said. “This is our football and we believe in it.”

In the win against South Korea, the coach even danced himself.

“It’s a connection I have with the younger generation. I’m 61 and I work with players 21, 22. They could be my grandchildren,” he said. “If I have the opportunity to connect with them, I will continue to dance.

“If I have to dance, I dance. But I need to train more. I have a stiff neck.”

About the only person who didn’t have a good time in the Brazilian camp is the black and gray cat, who jumped onto the podium as Brazil’s Vinicius Junior answered media questions on Wednesday. That got the Real Madrid winger laughing, but Brazil’s press secretary wasn’t so amused, grabbing the cat in two hands and throwing it off the 4ft high table while reporters gasped.

Brazilian Vinicius Junior laughs as a cat sits on the table during a press conference.

Brazilian Vinicius Junior laughs as a cat sits on the table during a news conference Wednesday at the Grand Hamad Stadium in Doha, Qatar.

(Andre Penner / Associated Press)

“You should ask our media officer,” Tite said when asked about the incident, which has been reprimanded by animal rights groups. “He’s the one who said, ‘Go away, go away, cat.'”

Aside from the Cats, not everyone in Qatar has been as free-spirited as the Brazilians, something against Zlatko Dalic, who will coach Croatia A Seleção, accepted. This style is not for everyone.

“They have their own way. They celebrate. They’re festive,” Dalic said. “I wouldn’t want to see my players dance.

“It’s a different culture.”

Argentina appear to feel the same way, as while Tite laughed and joked his way through Brazil’s press conference, Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni seemed intolerant of his as he grappled with reporters asking questions about the health of his players and his strategy for the Netherlands.

“We play our style, our way,” he said. “We have to play our own game and will see what happens.”

Each of Argentina’s victories here has been dull and cheerless as the team struggled to give Lionel Messi the one prize he lacks, a world title. That pressure doesn’t let up.

“Every game with the national team is a very important one,” said Scaloni. “We’ll do it like the previous ones.”

This one is a bit different though, as it’s a re-run of the 2014 semi-final against Argentina, which ended goalless after 120 minutes. Argentina reached the final on penalties, the only blemish on Dutch coach Louis van Gaal’s resume, which includes eight wins and three draws in 11 World Cup games.

“In my view, Argentina is a top country with top footballers,” said Van Gaal. “The tournament starts for us [Friday].”

Just don’t expect him to dance when the Dutch team wins. Brazil isn’t sorry for dancing into World Cup quarterfinals

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