As the dust settles over a World Cup tournament that promised much but ultimately delivered nothing for Brazil, a nation of 200 million people is still soul searching after a semi-final humiliation by Germany exposed massive shortcomings in the Selecao and left a nation in mourning.
The recriminations, questions and quandaries continue in earnest as the pride of a nation turned into intense feeling of hurt, shame and embarrassment and the 3-0 loss to the Netherlands in the fourth-place play-off only added insult to a gaping wound. But how could such a scenario have possibly unraveled at their own doorstep? How was a nation that was expecting to throw a huge party on the 13th of July ultimately end up, instead, as a mass funeral? And how could the Selecao, a symbol not just of pride, but the very fabric upon which a nation is dyed into, collapse so spectacularly?
GiveMeSport’s James Charuka attempts to dissect the Brazilian 2014 World Cup corpse in the wake of the just-ended quadrennial tourney and comes up with his own post-mortem of reasons, some of which are seemingly obvious but whose signs went unheeded.
No Case for the Defence
There has always been a sneaking suspicion in the British media that David Luiz is not a proper central defender. He is tactically careless and his defending often leans on the gutsy as opposed to brainy side of things, and while his attacking instincts and ability with a dead ball are commendable, the real truth he is not cut out as a defender.
The fact that his ex-Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho decided to jettison him for the rather surprising sum of £50 million probably represents the best bit of business Mourinho has done so far, especially if the Portuguese mentor can get cheaper, yet more reliable alternatives. Combined with the erratic Dante, who flitted in and out of the Bayern Munich team in the last season, then there is certainly no case for the defence.
Both were constantly pulled apart to the point of looking comical in the semi-final against Germany and when you add the past-his-prime Maicon to the equation, this simply was a defensive time-bomb that was going to explode sooner rather than late and it does not matter that skipper Thiago Silva was absent. the fact that it took a semi-final against Germany to be exposed merely adds to the fact that their defence was really on its ninth life.
Dearth of Talent
On the other side, Brazil must rediscover its football identity and realise that there is currently a dearth of talent in its national team. Whether this is a failure to recognise other talented players or a reflection of a downturn in the production line is as yet unclear. It is worth noting that previous Brazilian teams would have at least four or five major superstars going into such a tournament and would have the sort of talent on the bench that was the envy of every other participating nation.
The 1982 and 1986 teams, which was generally the same team, had soccer greats like Careca, Junior, Socrates, Zico, Falcao Edinho and Branco, each player being a game-changer in his own right and a team that played the pure samba style which had fans and media gushing with praise due to its extraordinary talent and ability. Even now, soccer purists generally acknowledge it as the best team never to have won the World Cup.
In 1994 under Carlos Alberto Perreira, the Selecao had Bebeto, Leonardo, Romario, Cafu, Roberto Carlos and Viola with the latter deemed only as a super-sub for stretching the opposition when the need arose. Despite playing a physical game as symbolised by the then skipper Dunga, the team was electric going forward and was resolute in its World Cup triumph. It may just be an anecdote of history now, but it must be mentioned that the Brazilian media by then clamoured for a certain Ronaldo Luis de Nazarena, then just 17 years of age to be included, to no avail as Perreira kept him on the bench throughout their successful campaign.
In 2002, Scolari could employ the services of the aforementioned Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos, Denilson while the ageless Cafu kept things ticking along as he skippered the side to victory this time. Despite now being well established as a rising star in his own right, a player like Kaka only played a bit-part role in that triumph in the Japan – South Korea edition. It is also now academic that during those eras, there were other greats like Edmundo and Rai that for one reason or another were left out of these great teams.
When you put the present Brazilian side into that context, it becomes apparent that only Neymar Junior had the wow factor while the other players, by Brazilian standards were distinctly average. The fact that Scolari had to persevere with the likes of Jo and Fred upfront reflects a distinct lack of options in attack.
Scolari’s Questionable Team Selections
Scolari cannot escape his share of the blame for picking a team often filled with some sentimental favourites. Whilst Fred shone in the Confederations Cup the previous year, many did not see him as the typical Brazilian centre-forward and the Fluminense striker is the sort of forward who depends more on scraps than on finding space.
Then there is Jo, the Atletico Mineiro forward, the Manchester City misfit who had a stint at Everton and an even more underwhelming choice in the team. Whilst we cannot escape the fact that these players performed reasonably well in the Brazilian league, their inclusion in the team owed more to Scolari’s benevolence than anything else.
In defence, the absences of Atletico Madrid stalwarts Felipe Luis and Miranda may also be political in a football sense but a simply check on the La Liga champions’ defensive record and these players’ performances, show that the Selecao would have benefitted immensely from their inclusion. Roma full back Maicon, who for long has been a stalwart of the side, confirmed many people’s worst fears in the thrashing by Germany when he was pulled and torn apart by a Joachim Lowe’s rampant side and his international career is now virtually over.
It is tempting to look back in hindsight and suggest that Kaka or Robinho could have created something better, but once Neymar was injured, all Brazil;s thrust and incisiveness seemed to go with him and maybe a place on the bench for Kaka may have brought better options in the latter stages of games.
There is little doubt in the minds of neutrals that Brazil rode their luck and had the rub of the green as far as refereeing decisions go in the crucial stages of games, whilst their systematic fouling of Colombia’s star man James Rodriguez went unpunished in a game Brazil should probably have ended with ten-man.
The opening game penalty against Croatia won by Fred left many suggesting a conspiracy theory in a match that the hosts struggled to win, whist the shot by the Chilean striker Pinilla that struck the bar in the last minute of extra time in the second round encounter, which the hosts triumphed via a nerve-wrecking shoot-out over the plucky South American side also did much to confirm that their progress owed as much to lady luck as to a flawed refereeing decision and thus kept the side in a tournament in which they struggled to hit the heights.
While a team of Brazil’s stature was always expected to be under immense pressure from the home fans, it was clear that when it came to the crunch, the Selecao failed to handle it in a spectacular yet cataclysmic way. One only has to note the relief on fans and players’ faces alike after the shoot-out win over Chile and keeper Julio Caesar’s post-match comments to realize that the team would crack under duress and it took the functional and brilliant Germans to expose some home truths.
It must also be noted that some high-profile hosts have failed to win and when you place 4-time champions Italy (1990) and the newly crowned champions Germany in 2006 into this category, then perhaps this is an acceptable reason, particularly in a football-mad nation in which the locals swear by their football team.