Much will depend on the Inter keeper if Brazil are to justify their billing as World Cup favourites
It is hard to think of a position in sport that carries the same pressure as keeping goal for Brazil in a World Cup.
While there is often little to do, there is even less margin for error. Do it badly and the hopes of an entire nation crash from a height unmatched anywhere else.
Moacir Barbosa, for example, never lived down the goal he conceded at his near post that gave Uruguay the 1950 World Cup. Back then there were only 50 million Brazilians to let down; there will be over 190 million when Julio Cesar takes on the responsibility in South Africa.
When he first made his name with Rio giants Flamengo, few felt Julio Cesar would get this far in the game. Although a gifted and athletic shot stopper, he was unsure on crosses, prone to giving away too many rebounds, made several high-profile blunders and had questionable mental strength – which clearly made him uncomfortable when rival fans pointed out his wife was an ex-girlfriend of Ronaldo.
But the 30-year-old has gone on to prove everyone wrong.
A stalwart with Internazionale, he has become one of the star names in the Brazil side, trusted to stand up and be counted when the going gets tough.
A key moment in his rise was the 2004 Copa America in Peru. Part of an experimental Brazil side that came back with the trophy, his error gifted Uruguay the lead in the semi-final. One of the real tests of a goalkeeper is how he responds to making a mistake – and Julio Cesar’s reaction was impressive. His save in the penalty shoot-out sent his country into the Final with Argentina, where he was in superb form both in normal time and in another shoot-out.
Brazil produce so many top players – and these days that includes goalkeepers – that opportunities in the national team have to be grabbed. Julio Cesar seized his chance at the Copa America and he was then taken to the 2006 World Cup for experience, putting him in pole position for South Africa.
When Dunga took over as coach after Germany 06 he took a look at several other goalkeepers in his early friendlies and, with Julio Cesar injured, he won the 2007 Copa America with Doni in goal.
But come the World Cup qualifiers, Julio Cesar was his first choice – and he was magnificent from first to last in the 18-game campaign.
By now, Brazil’s no1 was so fortified with European success and full of confidence that he seemed to fill the goal.
Headlines were made all over the world last year when Argentina went down 6-1 to Bolivia at altitude and it could easily have happened to Brazil in Ecuador a few days earlier. But they managed a 1-1 draw solely because Julio Cesar was immense – as he was again in Montevideo when Brazil beat Uruguay 4-0. That may sound a comprehensive scoreline, but had the keepers swapped places it could have been a different story.
In a team that likes to defend deep and then counter-attack, an off day for the keeper could be catastrophic. Julio Cesar’s recent form suggests that it is very unlikely in South Africa.