In a team of tall, strong central defenders and even bigger forwards, it was the two shortest men on the pitch that helped Brazil dazzle the crowd in Kochi. Alan de Souza Guimaraes and Marcos Antonio, the two midfield generals of the Brazil Under-17 team, provided the composure and quality to get past a quick Spanish side and start their World Cup campaign with a well-fought win.
Alan and Antonio, operating as the two behind the front three, complemented each other perfectly. Alan was the patient, calm, zen-like presence Brazil needed when they were 1-0 down. Antonio was the enforcer and the more direct of the two, helping Brazil get the ball forward. Together, they formed the backbone of Brazil's 2-1 comeback win against a Spanish side fresh from winning the Under-17 Euros.
"About Alan and Antonio, it's important to have players like them. They are dedicated and are used to hard work and for sure they had a great game," Brazil's coach Amadeu said.
Antonio, just about 5 feet 4, played a part in both goals Brazil scored. For the first, he provided the pre-assist; for the second, he sent a carefully lofted ball for Paulinho to finish. While Antonio was connecting the dots, Alan was silently creating them. The Palmeiras midfielder, who is an inch shorter than Antonio, almost got the equaliser in the 22nd minute after waltzing through the Spanish defence. Alan didn't get the goal, but he got the crowd singing 'Brazil Brazil', which swung the momentum his team's way.
Brazil had conceded in the first five minutes, something Amadeu attributed to his team being "nervous" at the beginning of the game. "It's normal at this age," he said. Spain's lighting pace had caught them by surprise, and the crowd, dressed predominantly in yellow, together felt the agony. Before they knew it, Brazil were already chasing the game; this had happened only once in their unbeaten South American U-17 qualifying campaign.
But from there on, Alan and Antonio slowed the game down, helping Brazil tire the Spaniards, who were also hit by the humidity. Brazil kept the pressure coming, by keeping hold of the ball as well their heads. They refused to panic, and fired shot after shot at the Spanish goal, eventually snatching a 2-1 lead at half-time. Paulinho celebrated on the touchline, completely synced in the energy of the crowd, while Antonio came to the bench and celebrated with his coach.
Brazil were in control, much like the crowd wanted. Alan and Antonio were doing their job.
Spain dominated the second half in terms of possession and shots on goal, but they just couldn't get past the keeper Gabriel Brazao, who had a terrific game. Abel Ruiz, Sergio Gomez and Ferran Torres all tried and failed. Once again, Alan and Antonio were at the thick of things, cutting out Spain's final ball and starting counterattacks.
"The most important thing is the mentality," Amadeu said of his team. "You have to use your mental power to remain calm and remain in the game."
Alan is already a star in Brazil, with pictures of his agent meeting with Real Madrid doing the rounds after a superb performance at Brazil's South American qualifiers: three goals and five assists. Antonio has not yet reached superstardom, but his first game at the World Cup has provided a glimpse into what to expect.
It is a hard task beating this Brazil team. And a lot of that is down to how difficult it is to get past their two midfield generals.