Brazil Trade Flair And Fluency For Pragmatism

Brazil would love its national team to play with the flair of previous eras but, after the disaster of 1950, victory is only primary concern. Nothing else matters...

Last Updated: 30/06/14 at 09:13 Post Comment

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After Brazil survived their battle with Chile by the finest of margins, relief should have been the overriding emotion. Instead, there was gloating. It was a peculiar sight as 60,000 fans poured out of the Estadio Mineirao and on to the streets. The Chilean cohort put on brave faces, but the unashamed mockery from their rivals was too much for some. Scuffles broke out, a local family jeered from the safety of their balcony, a man in his fifties walked past in a 'Neymar 10' shirt scrunching up his face and pretending to cry. It was all very odd behaviour.

The 120 minutes and ten penalty kicks that preceded didn't justify such smug celebrations. "Chile were brilliant", Luiz Felipe Scolari conceded, providing the recognition that was missing outside the stadium. "But I want to tell the people of Brazil that we have a good team," he added. It was a jarring statement. Should a reminder really be necessary just two games before the final? This is meant to be Brazil's World Cup, after all.

Two wins and two draws in regulation time have been followed by claims that Brazil are yet to find their rhythm, but as the tournament progresses it is becoming more apparent that this generation lack the flair and fluency of their predecessors. The Samba beat is evident everywhere in this country - from the matchbox bars of Copacabana and Ipanema playing Cartola long into the night to the after-school dance classes on floodlit astroturf pitches tightly packed between graffiti-daubed factories. Everywhere that is, except on the pitch.

Brazil are putting on a show for the world but jogo bonito is a noticeable absentee from the party. The Canarinhos allowed Chile's willing chaos to define Saturday's encounter. As their opponents dictated possession they crashed around the pitch in desperation, consumed by the dichotomy between what they are and what they are expected to be. It is an identity crisis that can seemingly only be solved by lifting the trophy on July 13th.

In Neymar, Scolari possesses a genuine jogador bonito, but even the star of the team - cool penalty aside - failed to inspire the performance required to see off Chile. "Neymar hurt his thigh right at the start of the game from a heavy challenge," said Scolari in the playmaker's defence. "We need to evaluate it but we should have three, four or five days to try and make sure he can play the next game." It is the country's primary concern.

Of course it is. The nation grinds to a halt every time Brazil are playing and Neymar is the only one who can bring it back to its feet. As he hobbled his way through the daunting test against Chile, others were required to take on the 22-year-old's leading role.

First there was Fernandinho, promoted to the starting line-up following glowing praise from the media and Scolari after his timely intervention against Cameroon. "I think Fernandinho coming in was critical," said the coach. In that 4-1 victory the midfielder turned the game as a half-time substitute. In Belo Horizonte on Saturday he repeatedly turned back towards Julio Cesar's goal to find the safest option. The crowd grew restless.

Ramires, Fernandinho's eventual replacement, didn't fare any better, also lacking the drive his teammate was supposed to provide. None of Scolari's changes worked. Fred was guilty of missing gilt-edged chances and struggled to combine with Neymar while Jo looked every bit the striker who flopped at Manchester City. Willian's scuffed penalty summed up his contribution. "He will gain experience from it," said Scolari. Yes, don't miss next time.

And then there was Hulk, all eighty-five bulking kilograms of him. Rippling torso, arm - or chest? - leg, neck and glute muscles. Never has there been a footballer more stacked - in short, everything you wouldn't expect from a Brazilian forward.

He was bright, at least, and full of effort if little invention. But Hulk is more likely to cause a concussion in the crowd than find a defence-splitting pass and the subtlety to con an opponent as crafty as Chile. In a team that is light on guile, his gauche touch is a defining feature. Hulk may have the shoulders to carry the weight of expectation, but skill isn't found at the bottom of a protein shake.

"There is no pressure," said Neymar after his two goals in the win over Cameroon. "I've always said there is no pressure when you are making a dream come true and doing something you have sought after since you were a kid." Try telling that to those who watched Brazil wilt in the heat at the Estadio Mineirao.

There is a reluctant acceptance of the team's limitations, however, and it appears Brazil has made a pact with its national team to excuse a lack of flair in exchange for a sixth World Cup star that even Hulk's pectorals would struggle to bear.

The last time Brazil hosted the tournament the national newspaper O Mundo published a photograph of the team on the day of the final with the caption: 'These are the world champions'. There will be no repeat of that show of faith, or foolishness, on this occasion. But if this Brazil side can realise the country's dream, it will be remembered long after the name Moacyr Barbosa is finally allowed to rest.

Matthew Stanger - Follow him on Twitter

@onceupon probably right regarding my use of the word sickening it does read a bit harshly in my assessment of the home crowd in hindsight, after all I suppose we can all be a bit one eyed when it comes to our own teams. it's actually the media love in I have the biggest problem with in fairness.
- frakessmee

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