SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Brazil came to Russia with a strong team, a well-liked coach and a great star. Fans thought the Selecao would finally end its World Cup title drought.
But again the five-time world champions are leaving empty handed, unable to make it to the semifinals four years after that humiliating 7-1 loss to Germany at its home World Cup.
It was a bad blow for the Brazilians.
“I can say this is the saddest moment of my career,” said Neymar on Instagram. “There is a lot of pain because we knew we could go further and make history. But it wasn’t meant to be. It’s difficult to find strength to want to play soccer again, but I’m sure God will give me enough strength to face anything.”
Neymar left fans the message on Saturday, a day after Brazil’s 2-1 loss to Belgium in the World Cup quarterfinals in Kazan.
The 26-year-old forward, in his second World Cup, arrived with the responsibility to lead the Brazilians to the title, but the team didn’t get close. The highest paid player in the world sparkled at times on the field, scoring twice, but left the tournament marked mostly by his theatrics on the field.
“I’m very happy to be a part of this team. I’m proud of everyone,” said Neymar, who hadn’t spoken publicly since the team’s elimination in Kazan. “They interrupted our dream, but it lives on in our minds and hearts.”
Brazil won the last of its five World Cup titles in 2002 with a team led by Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho.
The Selecao regained its confidence and the trust of many Brazilians thanks to good results under coach Tite, who took over the national team in 2016. With only one loss under him, the five-time world champions arrived in Russia among the main title favorites.
“It’s hard for me to talk to you,” Tite said at the news conference after the match. “The feeling is bitter. It’s very hard to be here.”
The coach has great support among fans back home despite the loss, and reports say the soccer federation wants him to stay for another World Cup cycle. Brazil hasn’t had the same coach for two straight World Cups since Mario Zagallo was at the helm in 1970 and 1974.
The question is whether Tite will want to stay — many say he already has offers from some top European teams.
“It’s not the right time to talk about the future,” Tite said. “I can’t answer that question right now.”
The squad left Kazan on Saturday without talking to reporters.
Midfielder Fernandinho, whose own-goal in the 13th minute gave Belgium a 1-0 lead at Kazan Arena was being criticized by fans in Brazil, including some racist attacks on his social media accounts.
Fernandinho, Marcelo, Paulinho and Willian played in the 2014 loss to Germany.
From Brazil’s squad in Russia, 10 players will be 30 or younger by the tournament in Qatar in four years, including Neymar and Philippe Coutinho, who to many was the team’s best player at this World Cup.
Brazil’s next tournament is the Copa America at home next year.
More AP World Cup coverage: www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni