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Despite the Despair, This Brazil Side Has Over-Achieved

The dust will never be allowed to settle on Germany 7-1 Brazil. Even in this most storied of sporting tournaments, that scoreline will be mentioned every four years and every time Germany or Brazil play a big game. The match itself, Germany’s excellence and Brazil’s refusal to either protect their goal or threaten their opponent’s is being picked apart at great length. Instead, I would like to focus on Brazil’s impressive achievement in reaching the 2014 World Cup semi finals.

In doing so permit me to briefly take a step back and consider coldly what is required of a team to win the World Cup. A big question with myriad answers and intangible, subtle factors at play, but surely we can agree on three things. Firstly, a group of 23 players in perfect harmony and who play effective, winning football together as a team. Also, in this squad’s starting XI we realistically need several world class players who can produce excellence when the whole fails. Secondly, an inspired, pragmatic and tactically astute manager is required to select that squad, mould it, extract the best out of it and to make winning mid-tournament, mid-matches changes as required. Thirdly, the whole group (manager, coaching staff, players) must have the mental resilience to cope with what increasingly becomes a draining, tortuous ascent to the summit of international football.

This Brazil squad lacked all three.

Let’s start with the players, and the few positives.

Neymar was without doubt their star man and is an excellent footballer who will be the central force in the team for the next few years. Crucially, his international record is also impressive, with a current goal return of 35 from 54 games (though he had never previously played in a World Cup).

Thiago Silva is a brilliant central defender. He is young and at his physical peak but has also accrued considerable experience in different leagues around the world, include a successful spell at AC Milan, probably the club best acquainted with excellent centre backs. He marshals his defence professionally and calmly and carries the authority of a leader.

Then things begin to get a bit thinner on the ground. Julio Cesar is a good, but never water-tight, goalkeeper. Dani Alves and Marcelo are exciting wing-backs who offer plenty to their clubs primarily as attacking outlets. I could continue, and by no means am I suggesting that the other players are bad footballers, but to judge on player quality alone this squad was struggling to justify its position as pre-tournament favourite. Most observers agree that Neymar and Silva were the two stand-out players, and their absence in last night’s mauling testifies to that belief.

Now, We Need To Talk About Scolari.

He won the World Cup in 2002, and this is to his credit and should be acknowledged and applauded. He certainly played his part in that success. Yet Big Phil is no great tactician. Last night proved that. He is a father-figure manager, an inspirational mouth-piece and a strong defender of his players against the baddies in the media. In 2002, the Brazilian team were superb and contained several world class players who had regularly excelled at club level. They were brimming with ability and belief and proved to be an irresistible force (like last night’s Germany). He got those men playing well together and inspired them to succeed, but in truth they were the best team in the world and needed very little assistance.

Thirdly, Brazil’s mental fragility at this tournament has been on display from the very outset. At the start and finish of every game they have regularly been overcome by tears, euphoria and prayer. It has been the prevalence and frenzied nature of this emotional outpouring that raises concerns.

In my opinion, they were succeeding stage-by-stage thanks in large part to fear. A fear of failing in front of their own fans on the biggest stage of all. They couldn’t let that happen, so even though their opponents tried their best, Brazil were going a step further and trying harder than they could tolerate and sustain. For the first ‘five steps’, this bubbling cauldron of mental insecurity and fear was kept contained. Last night it exploded, and they were rendered immobile. For 20 minutes last night, a World Cup semi final team, A Brazilian World Cup semi final team, looked as if they had never played football before. They were numb, shocked, terrified.

The Brazilian public believe their team should win every World Cup, while victory on home soil is seen as a national duty. Delusion on a grand scale led to talk of triumph and a 6th title. For a number of reasons, this squad was nowhere near good enough and in fact did their country proud in battling past the likes of Chile and Colombia to reach the last four.

Over-expectant support is hardly new, and the public rightly wanted Brazil to win the tournament. Now that they have failed to do so, I hope any hostility and disdain directed at this group of players will be tempered by an acceptance that they did their best and failed, and that the spectacular capitulation of the 7-1 was akin to a nervous breakdown resulting from unbearable sporting and patriotic pressures of which all were complicit, and of which only the broadest of shoulders could have coped with.

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