RIO: Exactly a year after their 7-1 World Cup humiliation by Germany, Brazil’s once all-conquering football team appears as lost as ever and, says coach Dunga, with no quick way back.
Wednesday is the first anniversary of Brazil’s shock exit from the tournament it was hosting and had been under huge pressure to win — a defeat as traumatic as any in a country of 200 million where football is entwined in the national soul.
And from the highest levels of Brazilian football administration to the popular beach pitches of Rio’s Copacabana district, there is agreement that something serious must be done.
“We all have to improve,” Dunga said in comments on the Globo Esporte sports news site.
“We need the humility to know that we have to work to recover that dominance of world football, but we also have to admit that it’s not that easy.”
Dunga was speaking late Monday after meeting a host of former national team trainers for a post-mortem on Brazil’s most recent fiasco — elimination from the Copa America last month at the hands of minnows Paraguay.
But the real hurt for football-mad Brazil is that extraordinary thrashing by Germany in the World Cup semi-finals on July 8, 2014. Germany went on to claim the championship previously held by Brazil a record five times.
Dunga put that loss on a par with Brazil’s 1950 World Cup final defeat to lowly Uruguay in Rio’s grand Maracana stadium, an event so traumatising it even has its own name — “the Maracanazo”.
The Germany calamity “is a date that will leave a mark, just like 1950, and just like the five times that Brazil was world champion”.
A year later, Dunga is warning of a gritty future for Brazil’s yellow-shirted players.
“We have to see the positive side. We can’t always win,” he said. “We have to try to go forward in every way we can.”
‘Players who can think’
Just how to go forward is something that Dunga’s brain trust of former World Cup winners says it has been meeting — and will keep meeting on — to figure out.
To many Brazilians it seems incredible that in a country with so much raw talent that their top 11 could be anything but the best.
On Rio’s Copacabana beach, skilled amateurs playing the traditional game and the even more breath-taking futevolei, or foot volleyball, say the national team needs better-rounded players who won’t depend so heavily on superstar Neymar.
“The team needs many more who can think for themselves,” said Marcus Vinicios, 44, sweating after a game of futevolei, in which teams of four use their heads, chests and legs to keep the ball pinging back and forth over a volleyball net.
“We should have players who can make their own moves, not just following around after one player,” he said as players did acrobatic kicks and dives across the sand Tuesday.
“We need players who when they get the ball at their feet are not thinking, ‘Where’s Neymar?’” he said.
Most analysts agree with that verdict in the wake of last month’s quarter-final flop from the South American championship, the Copa America, in Chile.
The once glittering team lacked creativity and became simply toothless once Neymar was sent off against Colombia for headbutting an opposing player.
Former Brazil international Cafu said after that opponents “have lost respect … they no longer fear us”.
But maybe Brazil’s golden touch can be brought back.
Falcao, a star of the 1980s, says the team needs to find a core of better players, but not anything as rare as a new Pele.
“We have to search for above-average players, not necessarily superstars,” he said, pointing to the victorious Germans. “The German team that was world champion last year has no superstar, but five players above average.”
Other recommendations from the group looking into Brazil’s tournament failures include reform in the lower leagues and better training for coaches at all levels.
Brazil appears to be confronting its problems, but as Dunga warned, the road may be tough.
Next up for Brazil are the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, which begin in October. And even these matches are now no longer seen as the formality they once would have been.