SAO PAULO (AP) – Less than three years after the most humiliating loss in its proud football history, a resurgent Brazil has become the first team to qualify for the World Cup in Russia.
With a convincing 3-0 victory over Paraguay on Tuesday and results going its way elsewhere in South American qualifying, the Brazilians ensured they'll join host Russia at the World Cup next year. Not bad for a group filled with players who endured the 7-1 trashing by Germany in the 2014 World Cup semifinal - a group many fans not long ago treated with disdain.
The road to qualification was rocky in the beginning, though. Dunga's surprising appointment as head coach after Brazil lost its home World Cup distanced many fans. Frustration built after a quarterfinal elimination to Paraguay at the 2015 Copa America.
Elimination in the group stage at Copa America Centenario in the United States in 2016 ended Dunga's run as Brazil coach.
In that time, defeats gave popularity to a new Brazilian saying every time something goes terribly wrong: ''Every day is a new 7-1.''
Brazil's football confederation didn't need merely a successor for Dunga. It needed a national hero.
The most popular choice was Corinthians coach Tite, who was overlooked after the 2014 World Cup debacle.
Tite was not in charge of the Brazil team that won gold at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, with Neymar back in fine form, but his advice was surely heeded. That title gave Brazil some confidence back, players say.
Best photos of Neymar
Neymar attends a training session for Brazil ahead of the Copa America on June 27, 2011 in Campana, Argentina.
Neymar controls the ball during Brazil's Copa America match against Venezuela on July 3, 2011 in La Plata, Argentina.
Brazil's past and present: Pele and Neymar at a Santos FC commemoration match in 2012.
Neymar celebrates at the end of Santos' Sao Paulo state league final match against Guarani on May 13, 2012 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Santos won 4-2.
Neymar heads the ball during Brazil's gold medal match against Mexico on Aug. 11, 2012 in the Summer Olympics at Wembley Stadium in London. Brazil lost 2-1.
Neymar celebrates after scoring in Brazil's FIFA Confederations Cup match against Japan on June 15, 2013 at Estadio Nacional in Brazil. Brazil won 3-0.
Neymar celebrates with Barcelona teammates Lionel Messi and Cesc Fabregas after Messi scored his third goal against Valencia during their La Liga match on Sept. 1, 2013 at Mestalla Stadium in Valencia, Spain.
Neymar celebrates after scoring Barcelona's first goal during a first leg quarterfinal Champions League match against Atletico Madrid on April 1, 2014 at Camp Nou in Barcelona, Spain.
Neymar looks to throw-in the ball during Brazil's International Friendly match against Panama on June 03, 2014 at Serra Dourada Stadium in Goiania, Brazil.
Neymar of Brazil poses during the official FIFA World Cup 2014 portrait session on June 8, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Neymar celebrates a goal during Brazil's World Cup match against Croatia on June 12, 2014 at the Arena de Sao Paulo in Brazil.
Neymar plays the ball during Brazil's World Cup match against Cameroon on June 23, 2014 at Estadio Nacional in Brasilia, Brazil.
Neymar lies injured while teammate Marcelo appeals during Brazil's World Cup quarterfinal match against Colombia on July 4, 2014 at Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza, Brazil.
Neymar answers a question from the media as his eyes well up with tears during a press conference on July 10, 2014 at the Granja Comary training center in Teresopolis, Brazil. Neymar suffered a broken vertebrae during the World Cup match against Colombia one week earlier.
Neymar tries to get around Enzo Roco during Barcelona's Copa del Rey match against Elche CF on Jan. 8, 2016 at Camp Nou in Barcelona, Spain.
Neymar celebrates with Barcelona teammates Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi after scoring against Atletico Madrid during their La Liga match on Jan. 11, 2015 at Camp Nou in Barcelona, Spain.
Neymar scores a goal for Barcelona against Atletico de Madrid's Jan Oblak during their Copa del Rey quarterfinal match on Jan. 28, 2015 at the Vicente Calderon Stadium in Madrid, Spain.
Neymar celebrates with teammate Lionel Messi after Messi scored during Barcelona's La Liga match against SD Eibar on March 14, 2015 at Ipurua Municipal Stadium in Eibar, Spain.
Neymar heads the ball to score his second goal during Barcolona's Champions League quarterfinal match against Paris Saint-Germain on April 21, 2015 at Camp Nou in Barcelona, Spain.
Neymar poses with La Liga trophy after Barcelona's match against Deportivo La Coruña on May 23, 2015 at Camp Nou in Barcelona, Spain.
Neymar lifts the trophy following Barcelona's UEFA Champions League Final match against Juventus on June 6, 2015 at the Olympiastadion in Berlin, Germany.
Neymar celebrates after scoring during Barcelona's La Liga match against Getafe on Oct. 31, 2015 at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez in Getafe, Spain.
Neymar scores during Barcelona's La Liga match against Real Sociedad on Nov. 28, 2015 at Camp Nou in Barcelona, Spain.
Neymar plays the ball during Barcelona's La Liga match against Espanyol on Jan. 2, 2016 at Cornella-El Prat Stadium in Barcelona, Spain.
Neymar celebrates scoring a goal during Barcelona's Copa del Rey match against Espanyol on Jan. 6, 2016 at Camp Nou in Barcelona, Spain.
Neymar celebrates with Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi after Messi scored against Sevilla during their La Liga match on Feb. 28, 2016 at Camp Nou in Barcelona, Spain.
Neymar scores the winning penalty kick during the gold medal game between Brazil and Germany on Aug. 20, 2016 at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Neymar collapses to the ground overcome with emotion after his decisive penalty kick clinched Brazil's first Olympic gold medal in soccer on Aug. 20, 2016 at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Neymar soaks up the love after leading Brazil to the Olympic gold medal on Aug. 20, 2016 at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Bolivia goalie Carlos Emilio Lampe checks on Neymar as he kneels on the pitch with his face bleeding after receiving an elbow to the face by Bolivia's Yasmani Duk during Brazil's 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Qualifier on Oct. 6, 2016 in Natal, Brazil.
Neymar plays the ball against Nicolas Otamendi and Pablo Zabaleta during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Qualifier between Brazil and Argentina on Nov. 10, 2016 at Mineirao stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
Philippe Coutinho, Neymar and Gabriel Jesus celebrate a goal against Argentina during Brazil's 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Qualifier on Nov. 10, 2016 at Mineirao stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
When World Cup qualifiers resumed in September last year, Tite's team was ready to dominate. A 3-0 win at Ecuador was followed by a 2-1 home victory over Colombia made Brazilians sure they were on the right path. With the 3-0 victory over Argentina in the same stadium where Brazil had been humiliated against Germany, the coach's reputation was enhanced.
Results and style have become so impressive that Brazil secured one of the top four South American direct places at the World Cup with four matches remaining in the qualifying tournament. It has become a team to fear again, as adversaries such as Uruguay's coach Oscar Tabarez acknowledged. When Tite took over, Brazil was sixth in the standings.
Now, the coach who made the contemporary Brazil team more like the Brazil of old is in celebration mode.
''Thank you, my good God. I will have a caipirinha this big,'' the coach said, showing with his hands that he wanted an extra-large drink.
Brazil no longer depends entirely on Neymar, and it can play without its teenage target-man Gabriel Jesus and still score many goals. The strong defense has conceded only two goals in eight matches. There are still weaknesses, including the lack of experience of the coach against teams from outside South America and the corruption scandals that affect its football confederation. But the momentum is clearly wearing yellow again.
''Everything changed,'' winger Marcelo said. ''You can see the atmosphere, how much players are giving. Everyone is working hard in each training, giving our lives.''
Under the new management, Brazil won eight straight matches and secured 24 of its 33 points. Second-place Colombia has 24 points total from its 14 games.
Neymar is also different, more mature. In the 4-1 thrashing of Uruguay last Thursday, he gave the world a moment of revelation. Before he scored Brazil's third goal, Neymar could have fallen in a challenge with defender Coates, who had already been booked.
Instead of diving, though, the Barcelona star stayed on his feet and netted the best goal of the night.
''There were many fouls on me,'' Neymar said of the Paraguayan defense. ''But I don't care anymore. They can hit me as much as they want. It is the only way they will stop me.''
Some of the veterans of that 7-1 loss to Germany are key to Brazil's success too. Wingers Dani Alves and Marcelo and midfielder Paulinho are all starters. And they want to avenge the humbling defeat.
''We are just getting started,'' Paulinho said. ''Adversaries better watch out because Brazil is coming with it all.''