LOS ANGELES: Two years after their traumatic World Cup semifinal exit, Brazil are haunted by the past as they get ready to open their campaign in the Copa America Centenario against Ecuador aiming for their first title in nearly a decade.
In previous eras, Brazil would arrive at the Copa America brimming with confidence, with the only debate revolving around who they could expect to face — and defeat — in the final.
Between 1997 and 2007, Brazil won four out of five editions of the tournament, helping to make them the most successful nation since 1975, when the Copa America began to be held regularly after an eight-year absence.
Yet as Brazil prepare to start this year’s tournament, the familiar swagger is gone.
The humiliating 7-1 thrashing by Germany in 2014 has left a team in search of an identity, torn between a more pragmatic, defensive approach and the hardwired instincts towards flamboyance.
So far, under the second managerial tenure of 1994 World Cup-winning captain Dunga, the results have been mixed and Brazil currently lie in sixth place after six matches, outside the qualifying positions. Their form has reflected the Jekyll and Hyde nature of Dunga’s team, where they have produced flashes of attacking brilliance only to be undermined by defensive frailty.
MANY HAPPY RETURNS
Brazil will kick off their Group B campaign against Ecuador on Saturday at the Pasadena Rose Bowl, where Dunga led his team to victory in the World Cup final against Italy 22 years ago.
“Hopefully now Brazil can get back to winning here,” Dunga told reporters in Los Angeles last week during a training camp.
Dunga’s task has been complicated by the proximity of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August.
Neymar will miss the Copa America in order to be available for the Olympics.
Dunga has made no secret of his desire to concentrate on the Olympics.
“Obviously we’d like to have Neymar here, but this is a top team,” Dunga said. “Some of them are very young, but they have quality. This is an opportunity for these players.”