Will Peru deny Tite the chance of becoming a genuine Brazil hero?
Which Peru will turn up for Sunday's Copa America final?
The team that, according to some of their opponents, gave France their hardest match on the way to winning last year's World Cup? The one that ended the reign of defending champions Chile with an impressive 3-0 triumph in Wednesday's semifinal?
Or the one that has lost at home this season to Ecuador, Costa Rica and [heavily] to Colombia? The one recently beaten by El Salvador, who collapsed in abject fashion to a 5-0 group phase defeat against Brazil, Sunday's opponents?
It is worth noting that even on Wednesday, in one of Peru's greatest recent performances, they were indebted to an excellent display from goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, who kept a Chilean reaction at bay in the second half. The clear conclusion, then, is that whichever Peru turn up to Maracana, Brazil will be the overwhelming favourites.
Much the same was true, though, when the teams met in Boston three years ago in the Copa Centenario. And Peru came out on top that day, winning 1-0, knocking Brazil out of the competition and bringing an end to the reign of coach Dunga.
He was promptly replaced by Tite -- and there is currently plenty of speculation that this game against Peru might bring down the curtain on his time in charge. The CBF, Brazil's football association, even went so far on Thursday as to issue a statement making it clear that they have not the slightest intention of parting with their coach. If Tite does go, then, he will not have been pushed. He will have jumped.
There have been rumours for some time that he was no longer entirely comfortable in the job and was upset that members of his coaching staff such as the ex-Arsenal pair Sylvinho and Edu Gaspar have been tempted away.
It would, though, be a strange time to call it a day. He would be leaving a job undone. Recent years have made it clear where the real challenge lies for a Brazil coach; in the past four World Cups, they have been fallen as soon as they came up against a top Western European team in the knockout phase. It happened to Tite last year against Belgium, and he should be spoiling for a return bout in Qatar 2022.
His team, however, appear to have lost some of the exuberance of his first 18 months in charge, when he took over a side in dire danger of not making it to Russia and immediately turned the qualification campaign into a victory parade, with 10 wins and two draws, 31 goals scored and just three conceded.
Normally, a 2-0 semifinal win over Argentina would be greeted with unconfined joy. But that has not been the case in Brazil since Tuesday's clash. There is recognition that Argentina might have been unlucky with refereeing decisions and that they had more of the game and pushed Brazil closer than most had expected.
There is an obvious comparison: The World Cup qualifier between the two sides in the same Belo Horizonte pitch in November 2016. The Argentina side are certainly no better than the lineup of nearly three years ago. They are clearly in a stage of transition, under the command of a caretaker coach. But Brazil's performance on Tuesday was unquestionably worse than that of 2016, when they drew Argentina's sting, took the lead and took control, winning 3-0 in a game that turned into something of a rout -- which never happened in the Copa America clash.
In hindsight, it seems clear that Brazil's excellent phase under Tite was underpinned by an unsung hero, midfielder Renato Augusto, who had been the most important player in the 2015 Corinthians side that won the Brazilian title and propelled Tite into the national team job. With his splendid reading of the game, Renato helped Brazil establish a midfield domination that they have struggled to reproduce for the past 18 months -- since the ever-brittle Renato's injury problems began to reduce his effectiveness.
When injury forced Neymar out of the Copa, some thought Tite might award the China-based Renato a late call-up. It was not to be. Willian of Chelsea got the nod. But in those moments of Tuesday's game when Argentina were in the ascendency, Tite could have been forgiven for dwelling on that 2016-17 period when no one managed to do that to his team.
He will clearly be energised by Sunday's final. It is Brazil's first visit to the iconic Rio de Janeiro stadium since the final of the Confederations Cup six years ago. Tite has been itching for a match in the giant stadium, built for the 1950 World Cup and rebuilt for 2014's. After the semifinal, he commented on the importance of the Maracana and on how he will be able to describe himself as a genuine Brazil coach after sending the side out to play there.
Tite has healthy respect for Peru's centre-forward Paolo Guerrero -- whose goals carried Corinthians of Brazil to the 2012 Club World Cup title, throwing Tite's hat into the ring as a potential national team coach. But can Peru give Guerrero enough support to threaten goalkeeper Alisson? In the group game, they found too their cost the havoc that Brazil's wingers can cause when given space. The natural tendency will surely be to sit back and hope that Guerrero can hold the ball with his back to goal long enough for the midfielders to get close to him.
The usual South American mentality is that finals are not to be played, they are to be won. But in the minds of their own public, Brazil are such clear favourites on Sunday that this can be put to one side. A scratchy win will be seen as something of a disappointment. There is a hope that the hosts can win in style -- which means that Tite, on his national team Maracana debut, is in for a 90-minute practical lesson on the pressures of being coach of Brazil.