SAO PAULO – Goalkeeper Julio Cesar, over 30 and past his prime, is the weakest link in the team which all of Brazil expects to win the World Cup this July. And that is no accident: The nation of Pele has long paid far more attention to players who score and make goals than to those who save them.
The country's best-known goalkeeper was probably Barbosa, and he became famous not for a great save but for the national agony he caused by letting in Uruguay's two goals against Brazil that won the World Cup in 1950.
The first thing Brazilian kids often do before pick-up games is play "rock, scissors, paper" to decide who gets stuck in goal. With so many outstanding strikers and midfielders in Brazilian history, few chose keepers as their childhood idols.
"If the kid is good enough with the ball, probably he will not want to play in goal," Zetti, a reserve goalkeeper in Brazil's 1994 World Cup-winning squad, said in a phone interview. "Kids are usually scared of playing in goal, and most of the time parents are always trying to convince them to play in a different position."
Zetti opened Brazil's first academy exclusively for goalkeepers six years ago. Brazil long neglected to take goalkeeping seriously, he explained. Teams didn't hire trainers for that position, so goalkeepers couldn't match strikers and midfielders for quality.
But Zetti said things have changed in recent decades. Marcos and Rogerio Ceni, goalkeepers in the 2002 World Cup-winning squad, both influenced the Brazilian game with their successes and become idols for a new generation.
"Marcos and Rogerio Ceni really contributed to get more kids to want to become goalkeepers," Zetti said. "In my academy, I can see this. Because of them there is a generation coming up that really likes goalkeepers. They are not ready to play yet, but in a few years we may be able to start seeing some results."
Marcos' saves in the 2002 final against Germany helped Brazil secure its fifth world title. He also enjoyed success with Palmeiras, winning the 1999 Copa Libertadores with the Sao Paulo club where he played for nearly two decades. Easy-going and known for speaking his mind, Marcos was easy to like for fans of all ages, even those from rival teams.
Ceni was a reserve keeper for the World Cups of 2002 and 2006, where he came on as a substitute for Brazil No.1 and captain Dida late in a 4-1 demolition of Japan in the group stage.
Ceni has won three Brazilian championships and the 2005 Club World Cup with Sao Paulo, where he remains a starter. He stands out for scoring goals, not just saving them. He has more than 100 penalties and free kicks, by far the most for a goalkeeper.
Cesar was a reserve with Ceni in the 2006 World Cup squad before getting Brazil's No. 1 spot at the 2010 World Cup. Fans remember his mistake in Brazil's 2-1 quarterfinal elimination by the Netherlands. Obstructed by midfield teammate Felipe Melo, Cesar failed to punch away Wesley Sneijder's cross that zipped past him into the goal for the Dutch equalizer.
At Inter Milan from 2005-2012, Cesar became one of the world's best goalkeepers, winning five Italian championships and the Champions League in 2010. He and Spain's 2010 World Cup winner Iker Casillas were the only goalies nominated that year for the FIFA Ballon d'Or.
But Cesar — now 34 — has been less impressive since moving to Queens Park Rangers, dropping out of the Premier League with the London club in 2013. Rob Green replaced him in QPR's starting line-up and the club then loaned him to Toronto in Major League Soccer after he failed to find another club in Europe.
Although none of this has been ideal preparation for the World Cup, Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari is sticking with Cesar, in part because he has few other options.
Not that many Brazilians will care.
From 2002, they mostly remember Ronaldo and Rivaldo, not that Marcos starred between Brazil's posts in the 2-0 defeat of Germany.
Taffarel played well in goal in 1994, but Romario and captain Dunga are the standout names from that team. Pele, Gerson, Rivelino and Tostao overshadowed Felix's goalkeeping for the winning team of 1970.
As Brazil now attempts to win its first World Cup at home, Brazilians only have eyes for the likes of Neymar and Oscar, the creative talents they so admire.
Only if he makes howling mistakes will Cesar compete with them for attention.
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