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FIFA U-20 World Cup

Homework pays off for Brazil’s Jean

Goalkeeper, Jean of Brazil celebrates after a penalty in the shoot
© Getty Images

Given the global nature of the modern game, few secrets remain so for very long. In the case of Portugal’s Raphael Guzzo on Sunday 14 June, predictability proved costly.

Handed the responsibility of his side’s second spot-kick in the shoot-out versus Brazil in the quarter-finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015, with the scores at 1-1, the midfielder decided to strike his penalty down the middle – as he had done successfully several times this season. Unfortunately for him, Brazil keeper Jean knew what was coming.

“When I saw him setting himself up to take his kick, I had no doubts whatsoever,” said the custodian, speaking to, on a pivotal moment in sending A Seleção through to a semi-final versus Senegal in Christchurch. “Before the game I studied quite a few of their kick-takers. I’d seen three of his kicks and he went down the middle with all three, so I feigned to dive and stayed in the centre.”

By doing so the ball flew softly into his waiting hands, a save that contributed to this being “without doubt my best ever day in football, my happiest day”, continued the Bahia shotstopper, after his exploits in a cold and rainy Hamilton. Indeed, given that representing his country “is something else”, Jean was even more delighted than when winning the Baiano state championship with his club recently, having made his first-team bow a few months ago.

Making the Auriverde’s shoot-out success even sweeter was the suffering that preceded it, as Brazil were second-best for large portions of the 120 minutes of goalless play. “We were lucky,” admitted Jean, his broad smile reflecting all his joy and relief.

“They do say that a goalkeeper needs a bit of luck, and I certainly got that! They [Portugal] had quite a few chances; for some of them I made good saves and others they wasted. But we had enough in the tank to hold on for penalties and managed to come away with a win.”

I’m a modern keeper - good with my feet and quick and agile. I position myself well on my line too.

All of which must make Jean even more grateful to have settled on becoming a goalkeeper at 12, having been a promising left-sided wide-player in futsal until that age. In the end, blood ties proved decisive, Jean Paulo Fernandes – to give him his full name – is the son of Jean Carlos Fernandes, a former Bahia fans’ favourite and the back-up to ex-Brazil No1 Dida in the Cruzeiro squad that won the 1997 Copa Libertadores.

“I used to go with him to quite a few of his training sessions,” explained Jean. “I fell in love with the position and fortunately I was able to play it. We’re a little different in style (laughs heartily). Technique-wise we’re pretty similar, but the style of play in general has changed a lot over time. I’m a modern keeper - good with my feet and quick and agile. I position myself well on my line too.”

Also working in his favour is a keen desire to improve, watching videos supplied to him by Brazil’s goalkeeping coach and seeking out footage of his own. “I watch quite a lot, such as of [Manuel] Neuer, who’s a modern-day icon,” said Jean. “I also watch vids of Dida in shoot-outs, as penalties are important at a World Cup. I watch so many to try and get an appreciation for their qualities and then put them into practice.”

And one of the qualities of a top-level custodian which Jean has shown at New Zealand 2015 is the ability to put a mistake behind him, having allowed a speculative effort from Hungary’s Bence Mervo to squirm through his hands and over the line in A Canarinha’s second group game.

“I never lost my focus,” said Jean, on the error that led to the opening goal in a match Brazil eventually won 2-1 against ten men. “What happened happened, I put it behind me and I had to forget it, turn the page mentally, in order to put in good performances.”

Moreover, since that slip-up, Jean has gone 412 minutes without conceding a goal in open play, a record which puts him in sixth place in U-20 World Cup history – just 163 behind the record set by Portugal’s Mika at Colombia 2011.

“It’s quite a long time, but it’s not just down to me, it’s down to the whole squad. Sometimes it’s me who makes a save, sometimes the defenders step in, but overall this [reaching the last four] is the result of good teamwork.”

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