SAO PAULO: Riyadh is expected to morph into Little Rio when the Brazilian national team touch down in Saudi Arabia tonight.
The Selecao will face the Green Falcons on Friday at King Saud University Stadium in what is the latest in a long list of lucrative exhibitions that see the world’s most marketable national team traversing the planet like a footballing Harlem Globetrotters.
While some criticize the fact the five-time World Champions are routinely pushed and pulled across the globe, that is the precise purpose of the Brazil Global Tour, says Julio Baptista. And the former Arsenal and Real Madrid attacker believes it is crucial that Arab fans can enjoy watching a team they rarely have the chance to see in the flesh.
“The people who organize these matches, they put them in different places to give opportunities to fans who never usually get the chance to see these players and these matches live,” Baptista told Arab News. “That’s why we have these games in different corners of the world, so the fans in Saudi Arabia for example can see the game, meet the players, and get to see them all playing up close. That’s important.”
In 2012, the governing body for Brazilian football, CBF, signed a lucrative agreement with Pitch International, handing the British marketing agency the rights to all national team friendlies for the next 10 years. Since then, the Selecao have played 43 exhibitions across six continents while the CBF have had to deal with allegations that the organizers have a say in deciding the squad.
Friday’s clash will be Brazil’s first against Saudi Arabia since a 1-0 friendly loss in 2002 and a first in the Middle East since 2010 when they lost to Argentina in Doha. They will also face their South American nemeses four days later in Jeddah, with both matches expected — as part of a deal believed to be costing in the region of $3 million per game — to feature the country’s most high-profile players, such as Neymar, Philippe Coutinho and Casemiro.
Brazil were knocked out of this summer’s World Cup by Belgium in the quarterfinals, a result Baptista put down to head coach Tite selecting players who were out of form. According to the two-time Copa America winner, Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino should have been selected ahead of Gabriel Jesus, the Manchester City striker who had started the previous four games without finding the net.
“The World Cup is a very short competition so you need to have the best players at the best moment if you are to win it,” Baptista said.
“If the players don’t have this incredible moment, you have to use other players to give you that chance. For me, Firmino was the best option, not because Jesus didn’t have the confidence or great qualities — he has incredible qualities — but for me Firmino was the player who needed to play.”
Coach Tite will use the matches against the green Falcons and
Argentina as a chance to experiment ahead of next summer’s Copa America, which will be contested on home soil. Barcelona’s Arthur and Malcom are both likely to get game time, while Lucas Moura, the Tottenham winger, has been
recalled and will replace the injured Everton of Gremio.
“These games will help Tite,” said Baptista.
“He will see more players, and while the travel is a little far, he can use it to figure out his best squad for the next competition, which you can be sure he is already focusing on.”
Meanwhile, in a further demonstration of the ties between Brazil and the Gulf, Tite is expected to return to the Middle East with his squad in March for another exhibition tournament, this time in Qatar. The Gulf state has already accepted an invitation to compete in the Copa America next summer as they try to prepare as best as possible for hosting their own major tournament, the 2022 World Cup.