Soccer: Resurgent Brazil almost ready for Russia, says coach
By Pedro Fonseca and Rodrigo Via Gaier
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazil's six-game winning streak has rejuvenated the five times world champions and put them on the verge of reaching the 2018 finals in Russia with new coach Tite aiming to build on form that even he has found surprising.
"An expression that sums it up well is turning the page," Tite said in an exclusive interview with Reuters at his office in Rio de Janeiro on Monday.
"We are building a new moment for the national team. It's a moment in which we are qualifying, consolidating the team, with a football that is efficient and pretty and that needs to be consolidated.
"We're well on our way to qualification, there's not far to go," Tite said, at the end of the best sequence of qualifying results since Pele led Brazil to the 1970 finals in Mexico. "We can't let down our guard. The chance is there in the next game."
Brazil visit Uruguay in March and no one would bet against them becoming the first South American side to qualify for Russia with an opportunity to make up for the disastrous end to their home World Cup in 2014 when they crashed out 7-1 to Germany in the semi-finals.
Brazil are the only country to have played at every World Cup but when Tite took over that streak looked in jeopardy as they languished in sixth place in the South American qualifying table, with the top four going through automatically and the fifth-placed side entering a playoff.
However, he has turned the team's fortunes around since replacing Dunga in June and said his first six games – with 17 goals scored and one conceded – were easier than he expected. They top the qualifying group with 27 points from 12 games.
"I thought it would be more complicated, with less (positive) results," said Tite. "I didn't imagine that we'd have these numbers and, even better than the numbers, such form. We have kept up a high standard of performance. That's significant."
Tite is not known for his attacking football or as being a revolutionary tactician, but he is an excellent man manager and peerless at organising a team that is resilient at the back and capable up front.
He has transformed a struggling side that was criticised for relying too heavily on talisman Neymar, with youngsters Philippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus both taking on bigger roles.
(Writing by Andrew Downie; editing by Ken Ferris)