Belo Horizonte: One of the interesting things about this World Cup is how little love there appears to be for Brazil outside their own country. Normally the men in yellow are everyone’s favourite second team, if not their outright preference. Brazil is a by-word for football flair, flamboyance and excitement. For players of individual skill and amazing audicity, men capable of doing things on a pitch that others can usually only dream about. That’s why the football they play is so often referred to as ”Jogo Bonito” – the beautiful game. But it seems that the rest of the world has, if not fallen out of love with the Selecao, then at least dampened their ardour as they have battled and scrapped their way to the last four. There is wild adulation at home of course, with millions thronging the streets to watch and exult in their team’s triumph and to party on through the night when they win. But that is only to be expected. And there is global sorrow at the plight of superstar Neymar, the poster boy of this tournament, whose crippling back injury sustained in a volcanic quarter-final contest with Colombia means that the Barcelona youngster is out of the World Cup. No-one likes to see the stars, the skilful players, kicked out of the game, so Neymar’s injury has brought Brazil a sort of sympathy that it has hitherto lacked. But why does it feel this way? Why has Brazil, so often the darling of the world game, suddenly lost much of its lustre? Why is the world so largely underwhelmed by this iteration of the Selecao? This Brazil, Neymar aside, is hardly crammed with stars. Its tactical style is a far cry from the Brazilian teams of yore, those who won hearts and minds – and so often World Cups – with dazzling football which set a new benchmark for the game to aspire to. It’s a physical, pressing, hard working team, relying more on graft than guile, heart than art. Flair players like Oscar have been disappointing, target man Fred has become an international figure of fun, and most people are scratching their heads wondering how midfield enforcer Fernandinho has not collected more cards than he has – or even stayed on the pitch on occasions. It has been over reliant on Neymar making things happen in the final third of the pitch, ridden its luck – particularly in that thrilling knockout game against Chile when it won on penalties – and been dependent on cenral defenders scoring goals from set pieces to take it through the knockout stages so far. That is not to sneer at its achievement. Making a World Cup semi-final is a huge achievement, even if you have the advantage of playing at home, which is sometimes a double-edged sword. The pressure on these players is immense every time they step on to the pitch so to achieve results in this environment is a tribute to their mental strength and their ability to rise to the challenge. And to give them their due their high energy, high pressure game was seen at its best in the first half against Colombia where they led at the interval and had their finishing been sharper they could have had more. Perhaps that in many ways Brazil is now trapped in the shadows of its own football history and anything that falls short of the magical eras of the past is marked down. Maybe it’s just because this team simply can’t compare with the likes of the Ronaldo, Ronaldhinho, Rivaldo side that won in Korea/Japan, or the wonderful team of 1982 (that of Zico, Junior, Socrates, Falcao et al that somehow didn’t triumph) or the great side of 1970, the team of Pele, Tostao, Gerson, Jairzihno, Rivelino and Carlos Alberto, perhaps the best ever. But it’s the way that this Brazil goes about its work that seems to rankle most neutrals or those looking to have their ideals about the game restored. Yes, other teams play a high energy game. Other teams are not afraid to use rough house tactics, intimidate opponents, dish out tough tackles and rely on set pieces with defenders scoring vital goals. But they are not Brazil. When Uruguay plays tough, bangs it long to Luis Suarez, sits back and defends to grab a result or relies on a centre back to score a crucial goal, then people say fine, that’s Uruguay, don’t they do really well for such a small country. When England runs into blind alleys and out of inspiration people just sigh and say ”that’s England”. When Italy combine malice and magnificence in equal parts (think of Materazzi and Pirlo in the same World Cup winning side in 2006) people shrug, smile slyly and say ”that’s the Azzuri”. When you are Brazil, a nation of 200 million people, a country that has won five World Cups playing some of the most scintillating football that the world has seen, the expectations are higher. For the professionals of course winning is all that matters. And for the fans too, so no Brazilians will be complaining if they maintain this style and end up taking the title in Rio next weekend against either Argentina or The Netherlands. But the rest of the world may not be that keen to join in the celebrations. Perhaps like Brazil, we are all also victims of our football past and are forever trapped in viewing any Selecao XI through the prism of a football history and culture of a very different kind, one when the term Jogo Bonito truly did apply. A time a long while ago, where different standards, values and expectations held sway. If Brazil can beat Germany without the injured Neymar and their suspended captain, Thiago Silva, then they will have achieved more than many now believe possible, and a sixth World Cup in Rio will be a distinct possibility. But its a big if….
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.