Sambafoot Sunday: Júlio César, Rafael, and a Seleção shot stopping saga
Sambafoot Sunday by James Nalton. The beat goes on...
Brazil’s goalkeeping situation heading into this summer’s World Cup is far from ideal. The host nation’s first choice shot stopper, Júlio César, couldn’t even make the subs bench at Queens Park Rangers in the second tier of English football, with manager Harry Redknapp preferring Englands 6th choice ‘keeper Robert Green, and 30-year-old uncapped Irishman Brian Murphy. César has since moved on loan to an ambitious Toronto FC side in MLS, but the season there doesn’t start until March.
This farcical state of affairs has opened the door to other Brazilian goalkeepers, as Luiz Felipe Scolari puts in place a contingency plan, should César’s lack of football affect his preparedness for the World Cup. Jefferson of Botafogo has emerged as a serious contender for the number one jersey after some outstanding performances for his club, and Atlético Mineiro’s Copa Libertadores hero, Victor, has also been included in recent squads.
However, the future long term guardian of the Brazil goal could be a player who’s yet to make a real impact at international level, but one who’s gaining vital experience in Europe’s top competitions with Italian side Napoli.
Now aged 23, Rafael Cabral’s career has been interrupted on several occasions by unfortunate injuries. Whilst at Santos, the club in Brazil where he made his name, he suffered a broken leg in a training ground incident having just forced his way into the senior set up. Then in 2012 he had to withdraw from Brazil’s Olympic team with an elbow injury, having been considered their first choice ‘keeper for the competition.
His most recent setback came just last week in the Europa League against Swansea, where he was forced off at half time with what turned out to be a nasty cruciate ligament injury.
Prior to this he had been challenging Spain's Pepe Reina in the Napoli goal, and had made several appearances in Serie A as well as ninety minutes in their 2-0 Champions League victory over Arsenal. Many of his appearances were due to Reina’s absence through injury, but the performances of the two ‘keepers this season have suggested that Rafael would be the Neapolitan’s first choice sooner rather than later.
He displays similar strengths to Brazil’s current first choice ‘keeper Júlio Cesar, who also made a name for himself in Italy, making over 200 appearances for Inter Milan. The pair are similar in stature, and both possess good reflexes, athleticism, and shot-stopping ability.
As he matures, Rafael could become a more level headed, reliable version of César, and working alongside the highly regarded Napoli goalkeeping coach, Xavi Valero, will aid his development in these important aspects of the game.
It seems that the only things holding Rafael back are his injuries, but if he can regain fitness after this ACL injury, and retain his agility and athleticism, then he could make a real push to be Brazil’s number one post-2014.