He played central defender with multiple teams in Brazil, Europe and with the Brazilian national team. He was widely considered one of Brazil's best central defenders. He also contributed in attack, frequently making runs into the opponent's half using his midfield-like technical skills to great effect, as well as his aerial ability.
Júlio César played 13 official matches for the Brazilian national team, from April 1986 to June 1993. He also played for Brazil against "The Rest of the World" in 1989 and for "The Rest of the World" against Brazil in 1990.
He played the Football World Cup 1986 and won the Best Central Defender Award. However, his outstanding performance at this tournament in Mexico was tempered by his penalty miss against France in the memorable quarter-final in Guadalajara. With the penalty-shootout tied at 3–3, after Michel Platini's famous shot over the bar, Cesar stepped up for Brazil only to see his powerful effort crash against the left post. Luis Fernández converted the next penalty and subsequently won the match for France.