World Cup Television Clichés 101: Germany are efficient, the Netherlands play “total football”, Spain are under-achievers and Brazil play to a samba rhythm. One by one, the long-held preconceptions of global football are starting to be turned on their heads. Germany’s defence looks capable of being tested by an attack with pace and flair. The Netherlands are playing functional football. Spain could (and, with difficult matches yet to come) become only the second club to be simultaneously the European and World champions. And this year’s Brazil team are playing football that is several thousand miles removed from the great romantic teams of the past. Of all the above clichés, the final one seems the most difficult to come to terms with.
The Brazil national football team has a strange effect on people. We suspect that their schedule is stage-managed by Nike and we are pretty sure that they don’t play enough matches in their home country, but we want to believe the story of the Brazilian football team so much that we hear a samba when it isn’t there. But there is a reason for this – romance doesn’t often win trophies. Some of the most fondly-remembered teams in the entire history of the World Cup finals, including the 1974 Netherlands team, the 1954 Hungary team and, of course, Brazil’s wonderful 1982 vintage, are teams that have managed, somehow, to not win the World Cup finals. The 1982 failure was a traumatic one for Brazilian football, and that it took twelve years for them to reach a state of redemption with their penalty shoot-out win against Italy in Pasadena.
Dunga was the captain of that team, and his team is a team that has been built very much in the image of the 1994 side that he led. The problem for the Brazilian coach is that the public (and that is apparently the population of the world, and not just the population of Brazil) wants – expects – more from Brazil than merely to win. They expect them to win with a degree of flair and élan. They expect Ronaldinho’s step-overs and the free-kicks of Roberto Carlos (well, specifically the extraordinary one that he scored against France at Le Tournoi in 1997). As such, any team or squad selection made by a Brazilian coach has to carry almost impossibly high standards – not just to win the World Cup (which, as one or two people might point out, isn’t that easy), but to win it well. They expect jogo bonito.
And with the assets at the disposal of a Brazil coach, this balance is extremely difficult to maintain. A short list of the Brazilian players that didn’t even make Brazil’s squad – Ronaldinho, Adriano and Alexandre Pato, to name but three – would walk into virtually any other squad in the finals, but Dunga left them all out and there are plenty of others aside, such as Ganso and Neymar. Dunga was savaged in the Brazilian press over his squad selection, and this turned the pressure upon the Brazilian coach up still higher. They began in less than convincing fashion, with a 2-1 win against North Korea, whose deficiences were cruelly shown up in their next match against Portugal, improved somewhat against Ivory Coast and then ground out a lifeless goalless draw against the Portuguese.
They won their group, but tensions have been exacerbated by Dunga’s decision to limit press access to his team. There are almost seven hundred Brazilian journalists in South Africa, and they are used to limitless access to the players and open training sessions. These are considered the basics of covering the national team. Yet Dunga has closed the training sessions and instructed his players not to give exclusive interviews to the press. Shortly after his team arrived in the country, he said that “about 300 Brazilian journalists are just waiting for the Selecao to lose”. Unused to such restrictions, misrepresentations of events have started to appear in the Brazilian press. How much of this is deliberate is open to question, but what is absolutely clear is that nothing less than winning the competition will suffice for the press, and even that may not abate the criticism of him.
Against Chile tonight, Brazil show both sides of the coin. They might not play as beautifully as many would like, but they remain startlingly talented. Chile’s attacking style of play often be joy to watch, they are missing three defenders and Brazil are so brilliantly organised, so precise and so hard-working that it never really feels as if the shock is on the cards. As the first half, Brazil turn the screw slowly, taking more and more of the possesion and forcing a succession of corners before taking the lead with ten minutes to play in the first half, when Juan heads in a corner from the right-hand side of the pitch. Three minutes later, the match effectively ends as a contest when Robinho finds Kaka, whose pass cuts the Chile defence wide open. Luis Fabiano is all grace, speed and pose as he glides around Claudio Bravo and rolls the ball into the back of the net with the insouciance of a man scoring at a (closed) training session.
It’s a pity in some was, because Chile have been perky and have had their moments, but it has also been, at times, no less than awesome from Brazil, and is all the more so because it still feels as if they aren’t playing at full pelt. Half-time comes and goes and, fourteen minutes into the second half, they add a third goal. It’s a joyous mixture of power and beauty. Ramires is carrying the ball comfort, but then he picks up speed like an airliner hurtling down a runway towards take-off. At the absolute, perfect moment, he rolls the ball to Robinho, who picks his spot and places the ball perfectly into the bottom corner of the net to make it 3-0. With their place in the next round assured (the possibility of any team in the world being able to pull back a 3-0 deficit against this Brazil team seems so remote that it doesn’t even merit close consideration), they slow the pace of the game and run the clock down. Their mission has been accomplished with the minimum of fuss.
This is, in a way, jogo bonito. The sheer effortlessness and the veneer of quality that runs through the entire Brazilian class of 2010 is not always beautiful to watch in an obvious way, but there remains something awe-inspiring and frightening about them. Chile, an attractive team and one that finished second to them in the CONMEBOL qualifying group, did what they could but were ultimately too brittle to be able to cope with them. It is easy to understand why people dislike them, and the press will be keeping their knives drawn in case they should trip up over the next week or so. However, it is also worth pointing out that, with the Netherlands and possibly Spain to play in the next two rounds, there should be no further matches for them as comfortable as this one was. This Brazil team will not be loved as the teams of 1970 and 1982 are. However, seen through a clinical eye, they remains the team to beat at this World Cup, and they’re still only firing on three cylinders.
Our thanks once again go to Historical Football Kits for the use of their graphics.