Brazil's 2010 villain, 2014 hero
WHEN Brazil's fate hung in the balance on Saturday, they were rescued by a man who could not get to play a game in the second tier of English football last season.
Goalkeeper Julio Cesar saved efforts from Mauricio Pinilla and Alexis Sanchez as Brazil won the shootout 3-2 after the last-16 match had ended 1-1 after extra time. The match ended when Chile defender Gonzalo Jara's final spot kick hit the post to hand Brazil victory.
The irony is that Cesar was not even considered good enough last year to be in goal for Queens Park Rangers - and that team was not even playing in the English Premier League.
What does their manager Harry Rednapp know that the rest of the world does not? Last year, Cesar became his third-choice goalkeeper.
Even so, when Brazil stared at possible elimination through a penalty shootout, Cesar was so confident that he predicted the storyline.
Said Brazil captain Thiago Silva: "Before the penalties Julio said, 'Hit them with confidence and I'll stop three'."
And so he did.
The tension was simply unbearable: 1-1 after 90 minutes of football, the Brazil crossbar rattled in the final minute of extra time, the hopes of 200 million people resting on a single set of spot kicks.
That was when Cesar's heroics separated the two teams.
As the Brazil players found energy in their weary legs to race across the pitch and mob Cesar, the goalkeeper's journey had come full circle. The villain of 2010 was the hero of 2014.
Four years ago in South Africa, it was Cesar's uncharacteristic mistake in failing to deal with a long ball into the penalty box that led to Brazil's unexpected quarter-final defeat by the Netherlands.
This time, his intervention averted a national disaster.
Cesar had already rescued his team in normal time, a magnificent reaction stop preventing Charles Aranguiz from putting Chile 2-1 ahead with only 15 minutes remaining.
But a bigger role was still to be played. Television cameras followed his every move as the teams prepared for their decisive exchange. His shot at redemption had arrived - and he delivered.
Over the past year, Cesar helped Brazil win the Confederations Cup but went nine months without a club game until he started Rangers' 4-0 FA Cup defeat by Everton in January.
After buying new gloves and training alone in a local park, the former Inter Milan No. 1 eventually left on loan, joining Toronto FC in Major League Soccer, but made just seven appearances.
Not ideal preparation for the biggest competition of your career, then, but it did not show as Brazil qualified for the last 16 as Group A winners, nor as he excelled once more in Belo Horizonte.
"This shows I was well trained for the World Cup," said the man of the match. "The staff created a calm and secure environment for me and I felt great joy, strength and affection.
"Being labelled a villain after South Africa was very hard, but this proves that if you have a dream, you go after it and never give up. What will crown this will be to kiss and lift the trophy."