Brazil vs Belgium: Firmino puts pressure on Jesus to come good

Brazil’s past World Cup glories have been based on centre-forwards — but with Gabriel Jesus failing to fire in Russia, the clamour for Roberto Firmino to get his chance is growing.

Manchester City’s Jesus has started all four of the five-time winners’ matches so far, but has rarely come close to adding to his 10 international goals.

By contrast, Firmino continued his wonderful club form with Liverpool by coming off the bench to score his side’s second in a 2-0 win over Mexico in the last 16.

Firmino also made an important contribution as a substitute in kickstarting Brazil’s World Cup by helping tee up Philippe Coutinho’s stoppage time opener against Costa Rica in their second group game after a disappointing 1-1 draw against Switzerland.

First called up to the national team as Brazil sought to get back on their feet following a 7-1 World Cup semi-final thrashing to Germany four years ago, most Brazilian fans had little idea who Firmino even was.

He had left his homeland as an 19-year-old after just one full season with Figueirense and headed to unfashionable German club Hoffenheim.

However, his move to Liverpool, and in particular 10 goals in the Champions League as the Reds reached the final this season, have seen his status among the Brazilian public soar. Media giant Globo described him on Thursday as the new “sweetheart” of fans back home.

– Tite loyal to Jesus –

Brazil coach Tite, though, looks set to stick by Jesus for Friday’s quarter-final against Belgium as loyalty for his part in transforming his country’s fortunes.

When Tite was appointed in June 2016, Brazil languished sixth in South American qualifying and were at risk of not even making it to Russia.

A run of nine straight wins followed with Jesus scoring five times to establish himself as Brazil’s new number nine at the tender age of 21.

Just like at club level where he has often been preferred to City’s all-time top scorer Sergio Aguero by Pep Guardiola, Tite and his teammates are fans of not just Jesus’s goals but his all-round game.

“We hear a lot of people saying that Jesus is not scoring goals. But sometimes they don’t see how much work he puts in for the team on the field, coming back to mark and win back the ball,” said winger Willian.

“Of course scoring goals is important, but I am certain that he is relaxed about it. He has the confidence of all the players and staff to keep playing.”

Unlike Brazil’s previous World Cup wins where the likes of Pele, Romario and Ronaldo have operated centrally, Jesus also has to play facilitator for the side’s biggest goal threat, Neymar.

Jesus has been starting on the left of a front three, and he and Neymar struck up a fine partnership in qualifying.

Rather than being bogged down against deep-lying defences like against Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia, Jesus may also enjoy more space to exploit against an attack-minded Belgium in what promises to be one of the most attractive games of the tournament.

If he does not, then Brazil at least have the luxury of knowing they have an in-form Firmino to turn to on the bench.

“It doesn’t mean he’s not going to be decisive,” said Tite on Thursday about the prospect of leaving Firmino on the sidelines from the start once more.


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