Firstly, huge apologies – I was meant to have written a couple of these things before now but what with me being in Rio and a World Cup being held in my city, I hope you can appreciate that my life has been a wee bit ‘out there’ for the past few weeks.
But now that the World Cup has come to an end, I think it’s a good time to have a look back at what has been an astonishing tournament from a Brazilian perspective.
Pre-tournament, there was a lot of pressure on the seleção to deliver, so much so that I was shocked to see no less than the captain, Thiago Silva, standing in the tunnel, before a ball had been kicked, in floods of tears. Worryingly, the sight of teary eyed, emotionally exhausted Brazilian players was to be seen with tiring regularity throughout the tournament.
Regardless of Silva’s tears and the pre-tournament threat of protests and violence, once the hour arrived for the opening match, Brazil did what Brazil does best – it partied. Nobody took any notice of the obligatorily surreal opening ceremony but once the teams were out and the Croatian National Anthem started, 200 million pairs of eyes were glued to TV screens across the country – and when the Hino Nacional Brasileiro chimed up, patriotism overtook the adoring public: after the regulation 1 minute for the anthem was up and the music was cut, 60,000 Brazilians inside the Arena São Paulo were accompanied by the rest of the nation in completing, with pride and fervour, their National Anthem. It got the hairs on my neck bristling.
The game, however, couldn’t match the energy of its audience; again, this was to be a trademark of Brazil’s matches throughout this World Cup.
Thanks to Alves’ weakness when it comes to doing the defending part of his job as a defender, the acres of space left behind him was exploited (as it would be time and time again) for the tireless Ozil to whip a cross in from, only for Jelavic to make the faintest of touches which was enough to outfox Marcelo, allowing him to be the proud scorer of the first goal at Brazil 2014! We’d all hoped the first goal would be scored by a Brazilian, we just hoped it wouldn’t have been like that…
You know how Brazilian commentators are famous for their over-excitable, elongated,
lung-busting screams of, ‘GOOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!’? Can you imagine how demoralised and disheartened that goal celebration was? Well here it is – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmKbhX8MmcA
Thankfully, and with a lot of help from Fred and some, erm, kind officiating, Brazil appeared to have pulled themselves together, finally getting over this first hurdle with a 3-1 scoreline which both did Croatia a massive injustice and was greatly flattering for the hosts.
A little sidenote here: the day was claimed to have belonged to Neymar after his 2 goals and impressive display, but for me, the man of the match was Oscar – again putting in the kind of display which makes him a dream to watch when he’s in the mood. A great player, it’s just a damned shame he plays for that rabble from West London…
Next up came the disappointing, but strangely predictable, draw with an organised, hard-working Mexico. We always knew the Mexicans would pose a problem for Brazil’s front 3, but we expected to at least squeeze a goal in during the 90 minutes. Although the doubts started to creep into the national psyche after this not-too-positive result, in general there was still a lot to be upbeat about – we knew we had a great chance against the old Indomitable Lions and the odds were that two teams from the Americas would progress out of the group.
After the 0-0 we hoped for a display, and goals to match it, when we got underway against the group’s whipping boys. In all honesty I can’t recall much about this game as I watched it in an unofficial fanzone in which the area was so crowded we were forced to the back of the venue, barely able to follow the action on the not-so-big big screens (I could barely make out the green strips of Cameroon against the grass – I just kept seeing the Brazuca launching itself at Julio Cesar, as if in anger). Brazil trotted out 4-1 winners and that lad with the crazy hair who used to be at Spurs took a hissy fit with his teammate.
BUT BRAZIL WERE THROUGH!
In the Round of 16 we scraped through extra time against a highly motivated, well-organised, technically brilliant, wonderfully supported Chi-Chi-Chi-le-le-le. The game moved to penalties and I have to admit to having been absolutely emotionally invested in the outcome. It was as tense as a penalty shootout can be with, thankfully, Brazil coming out victors. I would like to briefly tip my cap in the direction of Chile – I thought they were outstanding, and they brought the most pleasant set of fans I have ever had the privilege to mingle with – read more about my experience with the Chileans in the next edition of tf.
It was after this shootout that the character of the squad was magnified in the public domain. Apparently, the captain, Thiago Silva, requested NOT to take a penalty, putting his name last on the list of takers. Headlines of ‘capitão amarelo’ (‘Captain Yellow’) were being bandied around the press and social media. The cracks in the emotional state of the squad, previously papered over by positive results, were eventually being laid bare for all to see.
Colombia offered what we thought would be a stiff test in the semis, and the outcome of this one shocked me on two levels. First of all, we were all much more weary of facing one of the form teams of the tournament which boasted amongst its ranks one of the top performers.
The first shock was that Brazil won the game with comparative ease whilst the second shock was the levels of criticism that the team received for their, apparently, unsavoury tactics in doing so.
Going into the game, not one Brazilian was confident of Brazil beating their neighbours, but all were quite at ease at the prospect of losing to a fellow South American team – especially one that had played so well and kept us all so entertained throughout the tournament. This, by the way, is one of the more surprising sides of South Americans that I am pleased to have discovered. With the exception of Argentina (the Brazil/Argentina rivalry really is as intense as is reported) Brazilians will support their Latin American neighbours as if cheering for their own team, and this support is reciprocated, certainly throughout the lesser footballing nations (Brazil’s relationship with the Spanish speaking nations in S. America is somewhat complicated due to Brazil being the largest nation on the continent and by being by far the most successful footballing nation – it can be viewed as something of a bully, therefore this reciprocal support for Brazil is less forthcoming). Nonetheless, this idea of supporting Los Hermanos (‘The Brothers’) creates a great feeling of togetherness. The default setting is, ‘If Brazil isn’t playing, I support the South Americans.’ Brilliant.
Due to this Los Hermanos attitude, the game kicked off with great spirits amongst the fans, and any nerves that the Brazilians had were settled early when ‘Captain Yellow’ found himself unmarked at the back stick to let the ball bounce in off his knee. 1-0. Brazil then took control of the match and both managed to disrupt the Colombian’s rhythm whilst putting some fine stuff of their own together. Midway through the second half David ’50 million quid’ Luiz scored the regulation outrageous Brazilian freekick, hitting a 30 yarder as if he was kicking a beachball. I mean, he sidefooted it from that distance! Mental. It was after this goal that Colombia eventually started working their way into the game and were confidently putting Brazil under some good spells of pressure which resulted in one goal being ruled out for an offside call early in the buildup and Cesar conceding a stonewall pen. Rodrigues slotted comfortably to set up an exciting final 10 minutes.
In the end, Brazil withstood the onslaught and held on to the 2-1 win, although Neymar was injured in the dying seconds following a clumsy challenge resulted in him being stretchered off, having suffered a fractured vertebrae.
Obviously I’d watched the game listening to Brazilian commentators and through yellow and green tainted glasses, so I was taken aback when I checked the Twittersphere to be confronted with a large stream of ‘Brazil deserved Neymar’s injury’ rhetoric. I don’t buy this for a second. Were Brazil physical? Yes, as were Colombia (as conceded by their coach post-match). Were Brazil aggressive? Yes, although not excessively so. Did they have a gameplan to nullify the threat of Rodrigues? Undoubtedly, just as every team has a plan to nullify their main threat. Did Brazil cheat? Not at all. I’ve watched the game again and although Brazil committed a string of niggly fouls to disrupt the flow of the Colombians, not one of those fouls was dangerous, and as far as I remember, every single Colombian walked off the field intact. I’ve read the outrage surrounding Rodrigues’ yellow, yes, he was the player on the receiving end of the majority of Brazilian fouls, but his yellow was independent of previous incidents and was given due to the position in which he conceded his foul (maybe he should have thought more carefully about where the best place to commit a foul is – as the Brazilians seem to have done!)
I feel that the criticism aimed at Brazil had a lot to do with the fact that Brazil weren’t playing as we expect Brazil to play. I read one Tweet that stated, ‘If Brazil continue to play this way, football as entertainment is dead.’ Think about that for a while. It’s a bit much, isn’t it?
For me, however, the biggest shame was that it was Colombia who had failed to live up to my expectations of them. In all the furore whipped up in the media and on social media aimed at Brazil for not playing like Brazil (cos we’ve all forgotten ’94, right?) I think we’ve forgotten that Colombia just weren’t that good.
AND THE WHEELS CAME OFF
Germany are a fantastic team, I don’t know if they’re a great side yet, but they are bloody good. However, the ease at which they dismantled this Brazilian side was scary to watch. 1-0 up within 10 minutes, 4-0 up by 30 minutes, 5-0 up at half time, scoring became an embarrassment for the visitors. Reports have come out stating that during their half time talk the German team agreed not to over-celebrate in order not to upset the home support. This doesn’t surprise me – they have shown a touch of class since touching down on Brazilian soil.
The only positive for the Brazilians is that they only lost the 2nd half 2-1… They even lost the record for top World Cup scorer, Klose moving on to 16 goals, bypassing Ronaldo’s 15.
It was like a training ground exercise for the Europeans wearing a curiously familiar black and red hooped top (it’s a Flamengo shirt, let’s be honest), calling this game ‘men against boys’ doesn’t come close to describing the disparity between these two giants of world football.
Many of my friends are genuinely pleased that Brazil lost so badly, the argument being that if they’d put up a fight and lost 1-0 or 2-1 there would have been no need for a serious exercise in soul-searching. However, there are very obviously serious problems in the Brazilian game and now, as a nation, we have been forced to try to discover what they are.
After that 7-1 humiliation, it is fair to say that the crown has slipped.
As a side note – Brazil only beat teams beginning with a ‘C’!
*’E Agora, José’ is a famous poem by Carlos Drummond which talks about the trials and difficulties of the working people, it is an introspective poem which urges the need to search for answers to life’s problems – very pertinent at this moment in time for Brazilian football.
Follow me on Twitter for more news from Brazil – @Geordioca
Ed: John will have a more extensive and personalised account of the World Cup 2014 based in his adopted city of Rio in the next issue of true faith. You can sign up for the true faith fanzine here.