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Tite's rebuilt Brazilian squad is winning back fans

AP , Wednesday 11 Oct 2017
Brazil's Paulinho celebrates after scoring against Chile during a World Cup qualifying soccer match in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017 AP
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Views: 651

Every time Brazil scores a goal at home now, the crowd chants ''the champions are back.''

It's a relatively recent phenomenon, only gaining momentum after Adenor Leonardo Bacchi - universally known as Tite - became the Selecao coach in September last year.

Tite's tenure followed a gloomy period, when there were concerns among Brazilians that their revered national team may not qualify for the World Cup just four years after hosting the sport's marquee tournament.

But with the unbeaten run under Tite stretching to 12 games with a 3-0 win over Chile on Tuesday on the last day of South American qualifying, the five-time champions have re-emerged as contenders for the World Cup title.

The Brazilians had already qualified in March, and could relax as six other South American countries competed for three other direct World Cup berths and one spot in an intercontinental playoff on the last day of qualifying.

''Tite is responsible for the change and for our great moment,'' defender Dani Alves said after the win over Chile in Sao Paulo. ''When it comes to tactics, he is well ahead of any other coach in Brazil these days. He is a great manager of people, too. And he will be key for us to keep that momentum until the World Cup comes.''

Tite was the people's favorite to take over in June 2016 after a series of bad results for Brazil under Dunga and an ethical crisis at Brazil's football confederation, with its chairman involved in corruption scandals.

At that point, Brazil had nine points from six games and was out of the World Cup qualification positions. The performances were below par, star Neymar was having difficulties, creative players such as Philippe Coutinho were being overlooked, and fans were still traumatized from Brazil's 7-1 semifinal loss to Germany at the 2014 World Cup.

It was quite a transformation in 12 months. And Tite's new Selecao did more than merely win on the field. It won back its demanding fans with convincing victories over Argentina and Uruguay.

He also gave opportunities to players like midfielder Paulinho. The box-to-box player scored six goals in qualifiers, as many as Neymar, and was signed by Barcelona in the process.

''Tite's team made me like to watch Brazil again,'' said Juliana Moritz, a psychologist. ''After the 2014 World Cup I promised to stop supporting Brazil, it was too much for me. Now it is different, we have the talents like Neymar and Gabriel Jesus and the coach is a nice, competent guy.''

The Brazil coach also encourages dialogue with players, and says he exchanges many tactical ideas with Beijing Guoan midfielder Renato Augusto, who has become a key starter under his helm.

The rebuilt Brazil squad no longer relies on a bulldozing No. 9, like Luiz Felipe Scolari's World Cup squad did in 2014. Instead, Tite has used Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus, who has delivered a team-leading seven goals in the qualifying campaign.

When he was hired, Tite made it clear that he didn't think Brazil lack talented players, only that it needed to find some balance.

Despite all the recent success, it remains a work in progress. Brazil does not have a clear No. 1 pick as goalkeeper, and there's no obvious backups for players like defender Dani Alves and Marcelo and midfielder Philippe Coutinho.

In a bid to keep improving, Brazil has scheduled friendlies against Japan, England, Germany and Russia ahead of the World Cup.

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