Conventional wisdom has it that in a competitive sports event, the home team always has an advantage.
There is no doubt that having tens of thousands of fans cheering for you can sometimes make all the difference. It can give the home team the extra incentive and confidence to push itself to the limit.
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But being the home team also means greater expectations. And when you mix Brazil and the World Cup, you have extraordinary pressure on the players to deliver.
“Our team is suffering from stress more than any other team here. Imagine having the weight of 200 million people’s dreams on your shoulders,” a psychologist told Al Jazeera.
That weight became visible to the entire world when Brazil played Chile on June 28 for a place in the quarter-finals. So much was at stake for both teams. Yet, many commented that it seemed that Chile was fighting to win while Brazil were trying hard not to lose. After 120 minutes of exhausting play and a stalemate, it all came down to penalty kicks.
Joy or relief?
When it was all over, Brazil had won. Rather than jump up and down with joy, the team’s star player, the 22-year-old Neymar, dropped to his knees and sobbed and continued sobbing in the arms of his coach.
Perhaps it was relief, or even joy. But however temporary, it was an emotional collapse that many Brazilians attribute to the unprecedented stress of playing the World Cup on home turf.
That stress is apparently being passed on to Brasilian fans ahead of Friday’s quarter-final against Colombia .
“The fans are nervous and insecure because the team is not showing enough confidence,” Patricia Lopes, a seasoned Brazilian sports commentator, said.
After the emotional toll of last week’s narrow victory over Chile, Brazil’s coach Luiz Felipe Scolari brought in the Brazilan Football Federation’s sports psychologist, Regina Brandao, to work with the squad on Tuesday. During a news conference the following day, Neymar conceded the doctor is helping them cope with the huge burden of expectations – national and personal.
“I have dreamt of winning the World Cup since I was a child,” he said.
It is the dream of every single team that came to take part in this World Cup but as anyone here will tell you, the one with the most to lose is Brazil’s.
The trick for this country’s team, which incudes some of the world’s best players, is to transform what could be a handicap into a winning incentive.