They gathered round in a circle, arm-in-arm. They had walked onto the pitch in a similar fashion two hours before, but all the anticipation and excitement had long since drained away. This was now a test of mettle rather than of style or anything else. Do or die. Sink or swim.
Neymar was the first to speak, then Fred, who at least managed to contribute something after another horrible display.
The last player to pipe up was Paulinho. He had not played a part in the game, having lost his place to Fernandinho. But this was no time for sulking. “A porra é nossa,” he howled from the middle of the scrum.
Rough translation: "This f****r is ours!"
The emotion poured out. Júlio César, who admittedly has a habit of bursting into tears at the first onset of pressure, welled up. The crowd took a collective deep breath.
It took an own goal and a good slice of luck for the game to even go to spot-kicks. Mauricio Pinilla had rattled the bar in the dying moments of extra-time; it was not the first time La Roja had come close to netting a winner.
Eventually, after the massages and back-patting, it was time.
David Luiz scored. Of course he did. No one better embodies the fighting spirit within this Brazil squad.
Or at least it shouldn't have been. For luckily, Júlio César was having one of those days. The veteran saved from Pinilla, then from Alexis Sanchez. Brazil were still in their own World Cup.
Brazil's fifth penalty was only ever going to be taken by one man. Neymar has rescued Brazil more times than Luiz Felipe Scolari probably cares to count in the last few years, and took responsibility again.
The clocks stopped. The Mineirão fell silent. Neymar began his stop-start run-up. GOL. GOL, PORRA!
No celebration to speak of - instead, he just turned to Júlio César. “You've got this,” he seemed to gesture.
Júlio didn't get it, but it didn't matter. Gonzalo Jara's kick came back off the post. A nation jumped, punching the air. Miles away from Belo Horizonte, in the press room of the Maracanã, volunteers hugged and giggled.
It was a close-run thing – far more precarious than many expected.
The emotion on display when this Brazil side plays sometimes worries you. You sense they care too much, that they loose themselves a touch when it would be better to remain stoical. But on Saturday, they rode the wave. It almost took them onto the rocks, but they rode it all the same.
What drama. What a thrill. Just when you think this World Cup can't get any better, it manages to.
- Sports & Recreation
- Júlio César