Brazil coach Tite admitted on Wednesday he fears the injustice of a penalty shoot-out as the hosts prepare to face Paraguay in the Copa America quarterfinals on Thursday.
Brazil are haunted by the spectre of penalty shoot-outs against Paraguay having twice been eliminated by their western neighbours in that exact manner, at this very stage of the Copa America.
In 2011, Paraguay edged Brazil 2-0 on penalties and went on to reach the final in Argentina, losing to Uruguay in the title match.
And four years later in Chile, they repeated the trick, 4-3 on spot-kicks, although that time they were thrashed 6-1 by Argentina in the semifinals.
“I’ll never feel calm in a penalty shoot-out, I’ll never change my mind on that,” said Tite, at a press conference at the Gremio Arena in Porto Alegre, where Thursday’s match will take place.
“Penalties are unfair, they personalize success or failure and that’s not fair,” he said. “I don’t know how but they should find another way.”
Nevertheless, assistant coach Cleber Xavier said the Selecao “practised penalties today and tomorrow we’ll start talking about the strategy for that.”
Collectively, Brazil as a nation is paranoid at the prospect of Paraguay turning up on the bobbly Gremio Arena pitch and playing for penalties, adopting an aggressive and defensive approach in the hope of reaching the spot-kick lottery.
Titre expects Paraguay to line up with “two lines of four, one linking player with a lot quality -- a second striker like (Miguel) Almiron -- then (Federico) Santander or (Oscar) Cardozo at center-forward.
“They’re very aggressive, they score a lot so we have to work hard to be able to counter them.”
The pitch is of particular concern. The state of pitches at the Copa have come in for criticism throughout the tournament, and none more so than the Gremio Arena’s surface.
Unseasonably hot temperatures in the southern city have been identified in some quarters as affecting a surface designed to thrive in the cold and wet.
But Barcelona midfielder Arthur said the pitch is “the same for both sides.”
“I’ve not got much to say about the pitch,” he said, pointing to the fact that to do so would be “forgetting about the football.”
“Our biggest focus is winning the game, doing what we do well and being much focused on the final result.”
Tite dismissed concerns that Paraguay would look to stick the boot in on more naturally gifted opponents.
“Fouls are part of the game, we must be aware of that,” he said.
“We have to play our game. We have VAR and referees. If there are many fouls, that’s part of the game and we will adapt to it.”
Paraguay’s Argentine coach Eduardo Berizzo urged his side not to be overwhelmed by their illustrious opponents and “transform ourselves into dangerous rivals.”
“Obviously they’re going to put a lot of pressure on us defensively,” he said, adding that his players need “to be brave and come out and play without inhibitions.”
Tite has earned praise for his defensive organization but the coach himself pointed to Brazil’s eight goals in three group games as proof that they’re an attacking force too.
“It’s a balance, there’s no point being very aggressive with many strikers but not able to stop goals. And it’s not good to be scared (of conceding) all the time you’re attacking, having no trust. There must be a balance.”
Tite tried to relieve the pressure on playmaker Philippe Coutinho, who admitted on Monday that he had a poor season with Barcelona.
He scored in Brazil’s opening 3-0 win over Bolivia but was anonymous in the scoreless draw with Venezuela, before showing flashes of his undoubted talent in the 5-0 demolition of Peru.
“When you mentioned Coutinho, you said Coutinho has to be the playmaker,” Tite replied to a reporter’s question.
“No team should do that otherwise you go back in time when the number 10 had to be the playmaker.
“That’s the old days. Can we share the tasks a little bit? We played quite well (against Peru) with different playmakers, so different players are contributing.”