Football

Brazil pay price for buying into Neymar hype

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And so it proved, the mourning came before the funeral. By the end of 90 historic minutes Brazil, as a nation and a football team, were left to watch the lifeless body of their World Cup campaign be lowered into the ground, tears streaking down the faces of players and fans, whose ashen expressions betrayed a sense of disbelief at Germany's earth-shaking 7-1 win at the Estádio Mineirão in Belo Horizonte.

In that moment, Brazilian football was dead. It's easy to get carried away when it comes to the beautiful game such is the emotion involved but do not understate the significance of last night's result. The stats tell only half the story; Brazil lost a competitive home fixture for the first time since 1975 while suffering the worst ever defeat for a host nation in the history of the competition. It was the largest World Cup knockout defeat since 1938. 

Record defeat

But more than the endless stream of numbers and tumbling records, it is the tangible sense of disbelief and soul-shaking shock that grew each time the back of Brazil's net bulged that will ensure this game lives on and lingers in the memory. If the Maracanazo in 1950 scarred a footballing nation and condemned Moacir Barbosa to 50 years of abuse, then last night's result may well have similar repercussions.

Strange then, that it could have all been avoided.

In truth the build-up to Brazil's World Cup campaign had started months before the tournament got underway thanks to an endless stream of hyperbole and marketing campaigns, gathering pace and swarming in like wave of  before it hit the shore, starting with the curtain-raiser against Croatia. Inevitably, the wave eventually tumbled, undone by it's own momentum.

At the peak of that wave was Neymar, the poster-boy and emotional conduit for this Brazil team. They bought into the marketing, into the myth that he was their saviour. That he could make the impossible happen. And when he failed to take to the pitch last night, the wheels were set in motion for a defeat of previously unthinkable proportions.

Approach

Whether Luis Felipe Scolari wanted to or simply chose to buy into that belief that Neymar could deliver them to glory we may never know, but what is almost certain is that his willingness to perpetuate it contributed towards his team's untimely demise. And for that he will suffer.

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Last night we saw a team so emotionally caught up in its own narrative - trying to avenge their leader's misfortune - that the basics of the game were disregarded. 

Foundations

Of course the foundations were laid in the build-up to the game following Neymar's cruel, tournament-ending injury against Colombia. A country went into mourning, eulogising about the deified young forward as though he had passed.

Brazil arrived at the game wearing hats that bore the slogan "Forca Neymar", while David Luiz and Julio Cesar stood trembling and clutching a Neymar shirt while fighting back the tears during the national anthem. The story was that they'd do it for Neymar, that the World Cup was to be dedicated to their fallen comrade. Once more the tears flowed. Beforehand, Scolari spoke of using the national anthem to unify a nation. "Let’s feel that in our chests,” he told his audience while thumping his heart. The die had been cast.

World Cup legend Zico had previously fore-warned of Brazil's lack of self-control which ultimately proved to be the case against Germany. “There’s a lack of focus during the game, which can hurt Brazil. There are players who get emotional and forget the game. They need to have more control,” he said, and further encouraged by Scolari's recklessly attacking formation which offered little consideration to Germany's dominant midfield, they charged like cavaliers and paid the price, time and time again.

Rampant Germany

Germany scored three goals in 76 seconds in the first half and five overall. Perhaps the defining moment came when Fernandinho was robbed in front of his own defence before Kroos cooly slotted home to make it four. The blood drained from the faces of the crowd as they realisation of what was happening began to sink in. Fernandinho slumped into the net, Luiz stood, and stared for an eternity. It had all unravelled.

It shouldn't take rugby analyst Brian Moore to point out last night that "passion; commitment; pride; patriotism are not deciding factors in elite level sport - composure, decision-making and execution are", but it certainly would have helped if the message was passed on to Scolari as Brazil ran like headless chickens while showing less tactical cohesion than an U11 schoolboy team.

Overran

It wasn't just Brazil's system, individuals believed the hype. David Luiz will be the butt of many jokes over the coming weeks but it's not his positional sense that should be maligned, rather his desire to fill the void and be the national hero. With him, everything was a 50-yard Hail Mary pass, or a mazy dribble to launch an attack from the back. At one point, a through-ball found him bombing up the left-wing. He wrote both his and Brazil's story in his own head, abandoning any sense of defensive responsibility. It wasn't just him, Fernandinho, Marcelo and Hulk all followed suit. One newspaper in their player ratings gave every Brazilian 0/10. Luis Gustavo wore the expression of a man trying to put out a bush fire with only an egg cup to carry water.

This cohesive machine of a Germany side - who deserve endless praise it must be said - have evolved from being reactive to proactive between this and the last of edition of the World Cup, but engrained in their DNA is counter-attack football and how they preyed on Brazilian eagerness time and time again. They scarcely celebrated their win, such was their dominance, and rightly so they've been made favourites for the final, regardless of who they play. 

Cold hard truth

This is a limited Brazil side unlike anything we've seen in recent years; their willingness to play rough against Colombia exposed that to the world. Perhaps that is why they were so eager to believe the hype, to invest so heavily into the emotional side of the game while neglecting the cold harsh truth of a World Cup semi-final; that the team of talented players who can execute a coherent game plan best will usually win. 

The noise of the Brazilian fans has been one of the many great memories that will be taken away when this special World Cup finally comes to an end, but it will also serve as a reminder of their team's ultimate flaw; that belief alone will never be enough.

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Topics:
Brazil Football
Neymar
David Luiz
World Cup
Football

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