Paranoid Brazil over one 'trauma' but another demon lurks

Brazilians can't shake its sporting failures, one of which they put to bed for good on Thursday night in ousting Paraguay on penalties from the Copa America to reach the semifinals where it will face bitter rivals Argentina.

Alisson Becker of Brazil celebrates after scoring a goal.   -  GETTY IMAGES

For a team that has won football's greatest prize - the World Cup - more than any other nation, Brazil has a surprising habit of holding on to painful memories with almost masochistic insistence.

Five times the Selecao have lifted the World Cup and eight times it has been champions of South America.

It even won the secondary Confederations Cup as many times as everyone else put together: four.

But Brazilians can't shake its sporting failures, one of which they put to bed for good on Thursday night in ousting Paraguay on penalties from the Copa America to reach the semifinals where it will face bitter rivals Argentina.

"You have to get over life's traumas. Today we deservedly rid ourselves of this trauma from two knock-out stages where this team sent us home," said Brazil's veteran full-back Dani Alves after Thursday night's match in Porto Alegre's Gremio Arena.

Following a scoreless 90 minutes, Brazil goalkeeper Alisson saved a penalty from Gustavo Gomez while Derlis Gonzalez hit his effort wide, allowing Gabriel Jesus to score the winning spot kick and send the host into the final four.

Yet even the idea of arriving at penalties was cause for panic amongst Brazilians prior to the match as Paraguay had twice before eliminated the Selecao that way from the Copa America - in 2011 and 2015 - and both times at this very same stage of the competition.

"We knew today that we had to be very, very strong mentally because we knew we were up against one of the toughest opponents in the Copa America," added the Brazil captain.

"Physical opponents, opponents who don't let the game flow, who are always breaking up the flow in whatever way. It makes it really hard to play but I think we were awesome."

Humiliated by Germany

If Brazil intends to lift a ninth Copa crown, it may yet have to exorcize two more demons to do so, starting with Tuesday's semifinal at the Mineirao stadium in Belo Horizonte.

That was the site of one of Brazil's most harrowing experiences on a football field, which came just two months before the centenary of the Selecao's first ever match.

Playing in its home World Cup semifinal, Brazil was humiliated 7-1 by a rampant Germany, who would go on to lift a fourth world title.

This will be its first return to the Mineirao in a major competition since that day, almost five years ago.

"With regards to memories of the 7-1 we're very calm about that, it's in the past, it was a long time ago," said Chelsea winger Willian, who came on as a substitute in that match with Brazil already 6-0 down.

"Now we're leaving here really strengthened by the way the match went, by the way we qualified," the 30-year-old added about Brazil's victory over Paraguay.

Waiting for Brazil at the Mineirao will be perennial rivals Argentina, whom it actually beat there 3-0 in a World Cup qualifier in November 2016.

Should Brazil overcome Lionel Messi and his team-mates it could potentially face a third demon in the space of a little more than a week in the final at Rio de Janeiro's iconic Maracana stadium.

That was the site of the infamous "Maracanazo," an event so painful it led to a period of national mourning.

Brazil had just emerged onto the international stage as a major force, winning the 1949 Copa America on home soil in stunning fashion, thrashing Paraguay 7-0 in the final and scoring a remarkable 46 goals in just eight matches.

Free-scoring Brazil then hosted the 1950 World Cup, which was decided by a final round-robin.

In what turned out effectively to be the equivalent of a final, Brazil played Uruguay - the first ever world champions in 1930 - needing only a draw to win the World Cup having just thrashed Sweden 7-1 and Spain 6-1.

But after Friaca gave Brazil the lead early in the second half, Uruguay hit back with goals from Juan Alberto Schiaffino and the legendary Alcides Ghiggia to win the cup.

A deathly silence came over the Maracana and several people were even reported to have committed suicide after the game.

It gave rise to the "Phantom of 50" a concept that comes up every time Brazil play Uruguay, particularly at the Maracana.

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