SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazil came into the World Cup expecting nothing less than victory but tactical naivety, a lack of emotional preparation and an inability to overcome the loss of two leading players cost them the chance of winning a sixth title. Having gone 39 years without a competitive home defeat, they suffered two in five days, the 7-1 semi-final loss by Germany their heaviest ever at the World Cup. They followed up with a feeble 3-0 defeat by the Netherlands in the third-place playoff yesterday.
“After the 7-1 today’s game was very difficult psychologically,” captain Thiago Silva said after the Dutch game. “But we need to look at what we did wrong so we don’t make the same mistakes again. Especially when we lose a goal it’s like the world has ended and that’s not the way it should be. Football changes every minute and you can’t fall apart when you lose goals. That’s normal, it’s natural in football.”
The Dutch defeat was bad but it was the humiliation by Germany that will forever scar the Brazilian players and their memories of this World Cup, the first to be played in the country since 1950.
The defence was all at sea, unable to mark, cover or tackle, and a midfield that had looked ponderous throughout the tournament was over-run, with Fernandinho and Luiz Gustavo outnumbered and outsmarted.
Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari aimed to attack but left his midfield vulnerable and with Neymar out injured, there was no one to create.
“We forgot how to play as a team,” former World Cup winner Tostao said in his newspaper column. “For Felipao (Scolari) and the majority of coaches exchanging passes in midfield is fancy, nicey nice, unproductive. Brazilian football is all about running, lunging, and balls into the air. Because of the contempt we have for midfield we have no great players in that sector.”
The result shocked the footballing world.
Brazil were pre-tournament favourites and not just as they were hosts and because no European team had ever won the World Cup in the Americas.
They arrived having won their previous nine matches, with a settled squad and an experienced manager who led them to the World Cup in 2002.
Just one year ago, they won the Confederations Cup in style, winning all five games and handing world and European champions Spain a 3-0 drubbing in the final.
Brazil, though, never really convinced from the moment they went behind to an own goal after 11 minutes of the opening match against Croatia. They won the game 3-1, but needed a suspiciously soft penalty decision to give them the lead.
They could not score against a resolute Mexico side in their second game and although they trounced Cameroon 4-1 in the final group match they looked defensively vulnerable against one of the tournament’s weakest sides.
They only qualified for the quarter-finals by beating Chile on penalties after a thrillingly close game. Even the 2-1 win over Colombia in the quarter-finals was fraught.
The decisive factor came in that game with the loss through injury and suspension of Neymar and Thiago Silva. Silva got a needless yellow card and that kept him out the semi-final and Neymar’s injury, a fractured vertebra, shattered the team’s confidence and highlighted their emotional fragility.
Several players had cried uncontrollably after they beat Chile on penalties and they looked visibly shaky at facing the Germans without their biggest asset.
Captain in Thiago Silva’s absence, an emotional David Luiz even held aloft Neymar’s jersey before the national anthems. In contrast, the Germans looked cool and collected and when asked why they did not celebrate the 7-1 mauling more expansively, they replied that there was a time and place to show emotions.
Their performance also highlighted Brazil’s lack of top-quality players. Unlike the Germans, the Dutch and to a lesser extent Argentina, several of the Brazilian players who started the match were not regular starters for top European sides.
Goalkeeper Julio Cesar plays in Canada, Paulinho struggled last season at Tottenham Hotspur, Bernard and Hulk play in eastern Europe, Luiz Gustavo is at Wolfsburg and centre forward Fred is at Fluminense.
If there is a silver lining it is that unlike four years ago, when defeat by the Netherlands prompted a purge of the old guard, Brazil still have a young team and this experience, while bitter, could serve them well in the future.
Neymar is still only 22, midfielders Oscar and Willian are 23 and 25, respectively, and first-choice players Hulk, Luiz Gustavo and Marcelo will still only be 30 or 31 by the time the next World Cup comes around.
Central defensive pairing David Luiz, 27 and Thiago Silva, 30, will have a chance to deepen their understanding by playing together at Paris St Germain starting next season.
Brazil remains the only nation to win the World Cup five times and the team can bounce back. But the rebuilding work must start now.