2016, the year that could define Jefferson's World Cup dream

The 33-year-old goalkeeper hopes that the year ahead will see him return to his place as Brazil's undisputed No.1 and seal a revival for Botafogo after their relegation

2015 was a big year for Jefferson, for both club and country. With his contract just months from expiring, the goalkeeper cemented his status as a Botafogo idol by rejecting the opportunity of a huge payday to renew his deal and lead the club back from relegation to Brazil's second division. 

Meanwhile, he went into the Copa America as the undisputed No.1. Prior to September's Chevrolet Brasil Global Tour double-header against Costa Rica and USA, he had started every game for which he was eligible since coach Dunga's July 2014 appointment.

In North America, he was dropped and replaced by Marcle Grohe but an injury to the Gremio man saw Jefferson return for Brazil's first match of World Cup qualifying, against reigning South American champions Chile in Santiago.

La Roja's greatest ever generation, who had seen off Argentina on penalties to claim the first major title in their history at Copa America 2015, posed just about the toughest challenge that Dunga's side will face on the road to Russia 2018 and the Selecao were deservedly beaten 2-0. The opening goal arrived via a fierce close-range volley from Eduardo Vargas. Jefferson reacted well to get a hand to the ball but, having done so, faced criticism from some in the media for not being able to keep it out.

"I missed the chance to save it with my hand because it was very quick," Jefferson said. It would have been a spectacular stop had he managed it but, for some, Brazil's No.1 had failed. Instead, it was the moment at which Dunga decided he needed to look elsewhere. 

"I am not saying I was wronged - that is perhaps too strong a phrase - but I did not expect it, given my numbers in the national team," admitted Jefferson, who been the consistently safe pair of hands for whom Brazil had been searching since Julio Cesar was cast aside.

Aside from one high-profile mistake in the Copa America that gifted Peru a goal in Brazil's opening match, Jefferson had been splendidly consistent. "I think I could have got a little more credit," he added. "My departure was perhaps not only due my performance in the game against Chile, so I was particularly sad. No player would want to leave the team the way I left."

But leave he did, forced to watch on for the bench in the victory over Venzuela as Internacional's Alisson took his place between the posts. It was a big call from Dunga and one which attracted criticism from fans and a number of ex-players now working in the media. A poll conducted by viewers of Globo's 'Esporte Espetacular' showed that a huge majority of Brazil fans believed that he should remain first choice.

Jefferson made it clear that he respected the coach's decision but refused to hide his disappointment at what was a significant blow to his dream of defending the Selecao at a World Cup.

Botafogo's demotion hadn't harmed his chances. Current goalkeeping coach Taffarel was plying his trade for humble Italian club Reggiana ahead of winning the World Cup in 1994, while Julio Cesar retained his place as No.1 at World Cup 2014 while on the books of Toronto FC in MLS.

Besides, Jefferson was confident that the Black Star would bounce straight back. During the successful campaign in Serie B, Jefferson the star performer for the Carioca club. "I knew the pressure would be huge and that I would have to be very consistent," he told Goal Brazil. 

And the captain of the club kept his word: in 26 games in Serie B, he conceded just 17 goals. Throughout the campaign, he time and again proved vital to Botafogo as they boasted the meanest defence in the league.

Now back in the top flight, 2016 will be a big year for Jefferson - and he faces a fight to win back his place in the Brazil team. Alisson has impressed, while Marcelo Grohe and Corinthians' Cassio are also in the race. Atletico-MG's Victor and Fluminense's Diego Cavalieri are also desperate to convince Dunga that they deserve a chance. 

"This year my goal is to return as a starter for Brazil," said Jefferson in January. "Here at Botafogo, the goal is to win titles and return to the Copa Libertadores. We know that there will be pressure but there was great pressure when we were demoted to Serie B. We are confident."

Nobody more so than Jefferson. He made the squad in World Cup 2014 but never made it onto the pitch. The year ahead will likely define whether or not he gets the second chance that many feel he deserves.