Brazil’s Julio Cesar: From villain to hero

Sportsnet's James Sharman breaks down the three biggest stories so far at the 2014 World Cup, from the plethora of goals to the bite heard around the world.

Name: Julio Cesar Soares de Espindola
Born: Sept. 3, 1979 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Position: Goalkeeper
Pro club: Queens Park Rangers

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Why he’s in the news

If you don’t know, then you didn’t watch Brazil’s hyper-dramatic Round of 16 shootout win over Chile at the World Cup. Not only was Cesar—who spent the first half of the current MLS season on loan with Toronto FC before decamping for the World Cup—solid during regular time and extra time, making several key saves during the game, he stopped two penalties in the 3-2 shootout win.

He’s special because

The villain of Brazil’s doomed 2010 World Cup run—his poor judgment of a cross in the quarterfinals allowed the Netherlands to equalize en route to winning—Cesar is now Brazil’s hero. What’s more, he’s the hero they need. Though the Selecao’s back line looks strong on paper, it’s been a weak spot for the team in the World Cup, meaning the goalkeeper has had to step up to save his side. And he’s doing it under extreme pressure. The last ‘keeper to play for Brazil at home in the World Cup—Barbosa—was villainized after Uruguay beat the hosts in the final, and remained a hated figure for the rest of his life. Such is the passion for football in Brazil; such is the price of failure.

Cesar has withstood the pressure well, though it has shown on him. He was seen crying before the penalty kicks were taken at the Estadio Mineirao, and wept openly after the win. But maybe that’s just Julio being Julio, given his tearful farewell to TFC upon leaving for Brazil.

Club career

After five seasons (and a number of titles) as the No. 1 for Rio de Janeiro heavyweights Flamengo, Cesar made the move to Europe to join Italian super club Inter Milan. It was with the Nerazzuri that Cesar came into his own as an elite ‘keeper, winning five Serie A championships, four Coppa Italias and a Champions League title. Once his contract with Inter wound down after the 2010 season, Cesar made a shock move to recently promoted Premier League side Queens Park Rangers, who were assembling high-priced talent in a bid to stay in the English top-flight. It didn’t work, and Cesar spent just one season with QPR before they were relegated. The Brazilian didn’t see the field for Rangers in their time in the English Championship as Robert Green took over. Cesar’s move to Toronto FC at the close of the English campaign was a boost to TFC’s rebuild process and to Cesar’s preparations for the World Cup.

International career

The successor to Brazilian legend Dida, Cesar served as backup for the first few years after his first call to the Selecao in 2003. The then-Flamengo goalkeeper cut his teeth with a Copa America win in 2004 as Dida sat out, and secured No. 1 status after Dida’s retirement following the 2006 World Cup. To date the 34 year old has earned 84 caps for Brazil.

His most famous moment

Cesar flirted with infamy at home after his mistake in the quarterfinal loss in 2010, but has redeemed himself with his pair of saves in the Chile shootout. But this isn’t the first time Cesar has proved a hero in penalties. In the 2004 Copa America he made the crucial save against Uruguay in penalty kicks to get Brazil to the finals. When Argentina took the Brazilians to spot kicks in the deciding game, Cesar stopped Andres D’Alessandro’s opening kick as Brazil went on to win the South American title over their biggest rivals.

Interesting fact

Cesar may have had a little bit of divine assistance behind his penalty kick heroics against Chile. Brazilian back-up ‘keeper Victor spontaneously gave Cesar a rosary and cross before the spot kicks began. Maybe it made no difference, maybe it offered a mental boost—maybe God really did smile on Brazil’s No. 1. Whatever the truth, Brazilian fans were certainly enraptured by Cesar’s performance.

He said it

“I just hope the games that come now aren’t decided by penalties otherwise our friends and families might have heart attacks.”

What they’re saying about him

“Before the penalties Julio said: ‘Hit them with confidence and I’ll stop three,’” said Brazil defender Thiago Silva. “It was preordained.”

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