All those with a thing for football and old enough to remember July 5, 1982, may have a sense of déjà vu along with the usual Monday morning blues. That day too Brazil needed just a draw. Instead, they became the best team to not win a World Cup. Zico was quoted as saying that football died that day. There is perhaps some divine justice in the fact that it happened in Barcelona but not at Camp Nou.
On a Sunday night in Massachusetts that crept into our morning and at a stadium named after a razor multinational, Brazil, with a squad that had seven U-23 players because this is Olympics year, were shaved out of the centenary celebrations of the Copa America by a goal that could again trigger a debate for football to have cricket’s equivalent of a third umpire. Given how resistant football has been to change, implementing goalline technology at Copa has been a massive improvement but Raul Ruidiaz’s match winner clearly shows that a lot still needs to be done.
“My question is, despite all the technology, we still make mistakes. The refs consulted. They were talking to somewhere else when they should be talking to each other. I don’t understand why they had to be on the headset to consult. This is very strange,” Brazil coach Dunga, speaking through a translator, was quoted as saying by ESPN.
But every Brazilian and their national football team’s innumerable fans across the world should also remember that Dunga’s men could have begun the tournament with a loss to Ecuador when a goal that looked genuine was disallowed. How about that for a normal amount of perspective?
Barring the seven-goal effort against Haiti, Brazil has looked iffy in this tournament, a trend that has continued from that 7-1 humbling in the World Cup semi-final in Belo Horizonte. When the Germans were on a goal-spree that benumbed the Estadio Mineirao --- they scored four between the 23rd and 29th minutes and five in the first half --- another Indian journalist had quipped in the media tribune that had this been a boxing match, the referee would have stopped the contest.
Dunga began his second innings well being unbeaten in his first seven games but Brazil are sixth among 10 teams in the South American World Cup qualifiers. These are early days on the road to Russia but it is worth noting that Uruguay, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile and Colombia are ahead of the five-time world champions who began the qualifiers with a 2-0 loss to Chile on the road. And they were knocked out of the 2015 Copa America in the quarter-final losing to Paraguay in the shootout, a result that meant they won’t qualify for the 2017 Confederations Cup. Brazil has won four of the seven Confederations Cups and has played five finals of that tournament in all.
One of the changes Dunga made after taking over from Luiz Felipe Scolari was that he preferred not playing a Number 9. His hand was forced as much by a plethora of quality attacking medios such as Neymar, Willian, Oscar and Philippe Coutinho being available as it was by the lack of quality strikers. And that’s been a problem Brazil’s been battling for long, the misadventures of Hulk and Fred in the 2014 World Cup only embellishing the point.
Without Neymar, Brazil looked toothless in this Copa barring the game against Haiti. In three games, Brazil scored seven goals all right but all of them came in one match. Maybe Gabriel will one day become the Brazilian striker the world covets but at 20, he surely has a long way to go.
Brazil has also been strangely reluctant to the idea of having a foreign coach. Pep Guardiola, it was rumoured, would be Scolari’s replacement but the job went to Dunga, again. Before Dunga it was Scolari’s turn for a second innings and in some ways, this inward looking approach to hiring a coach seems like an idea whose time has gone. After the 7-1 defeat in the World Cup, a lot of Brazilian players accepted that European teams have taken the game to a different level. But the administrators seem to think otherwise, at least when it comes to appointing the national team coach.
This defeat came hours after Germany cruised to a victory in their Euro 2016 opener. Coach Joachim Loew’s team had six players against Ukraine who started the World Cup final at Maracana. It didn’t have the experience and versatility of Philipp Lahm and the poaching skills of Miroslav Klose but to say Germany have made the transition more smoothly than Brazil would be understating the obvious. For the record, Dunga took only three players from the World Cup squad to the USA.