Tuesday afternoon’s historic semifinal win by Germany, a 7-1 demolishing of World Cup hosts Brazil, has had the football world buzzing. Twitter, Facebook, and myriad other social media have had record traffic over the past few weeks and that traffic peaked on Tuesday. The curious thing about the buzz, or the media’s coverage of the buzz, is how it has failed to capture the true nature of the debacle.
But if one reads the social media traffic and the news media coming from Brazil, the clearest of pictures comes into focus. Let’s look at three perspectives on the game: the perspectives of Brazil’s media and fans, that of the Brazilian Football Establishment, and that of the coverage by the media outside Brazil.
Brazil’s media and fans
The perspectives of the Brazilian fans and media about the Brazilian team and coach where expressed loud and clear and early. They were expressed via e-mails, graffiti on streets near the stadiums, on Twitter and Facebook, and in papers from Super Noticia, to O Globo, to Folha de S. Paolo.
The fans and media did not think that Coach Felipe Scolari had chosen his roster well. There was talent missing, creativity missing, and few players knew each other since the roster counted 23 players from 18 different teams. The fans and media thought that the roster choices meant the hosts would field one of the weakest Brazilian sides in eons just as it was ready to host the cup. They also felt that because of those poor choices, should anything go awry, the coach would be left with few tactical options, let alone the ability to present any jogo bonito to its home fans. Guess what?
Brazilian Football Establishment
The Brazilian Football Establishment, via Coach Luis Felipe Scolari’s post-debacle press appearances, focused on how to get past the defeat on home soil, since that establishment’s leadership now tallies two deeply emotional embarrassments for its two hosting opportunities.
What Scolari tried to do in his press conference—“This is the worst day of my career, my football life, but the rest of my life continues as it does for the players and the fans…”—is distance the Brazilian football establishment from both the anger the fans felt and the disillusionment the players displayed on the pitch after the game. This would have been a big deal if we had won but let’s not make a big deal of it now that we have lost, was the message he tried to deliver to those who knew better.
What he could have told the media, fans, and players was simple: I picked a team that was no better than the 12th best side at the cup. We were helped by the refs to get as far as we did. I erred in asking my guys to play bullies at home to make up for the team’s technical and tactical deficiencies. This was an avoidable travesty of my own making and now all of you--fans and players alike--have to suffer for it. I am sorry.
Two additional telling things the Brazilian football establishment did are worth noting. First, the nation’s sports minister, Aldo Rebelo, one of the good guys trying to better the sport at home, called for the overhaul of Brazil’s domestic football. Then, in the same interview he said the 7-1 defeat was not comparable to the 2-1 one in 1950 because the first home loss featured a stronger Brazilian side.
Whether an overhaul is needed is an issue that has been brewing for years, one Rebelo has been working to obtain, but using the semifinals debacle as a tipping point should tell the public just what type of strategic management they have overseeing their favored sport. That a stronger side was available but was not fielded in 2014 seems to have eluded even Rebelo’s analysis.
Second, the Brazilian Football Confederation officially asked FIFA to assuage Brazil’s troubles by breaking the cup’s rules and allowing team captain Thiago Silva’s suspension to be reversed, simply because it suited the Selecao. That request was more embarrassing than the loss for it spoke volumes about what former World Cup star Romario has called the “establishment’s hubris and myopia” and recently called “talentless moguls.”
The disconnect between the debacle on the pitch and the football establishment could not have been any bigger than the disconnect has been between the media and fans and that same establishment.
Media outside Brazil
Throughout a good portion of their coverage of the tournament, the European media’s slant has attempted to portray the South American tourney in terms of what-is-happening-to-our-sport-over-there. Articles from the British, Italian, and Dutch press, for example, focused on their teams’ tactical miscues, which were routinely thought to be responsible for their losses, rather than the play of their competitors from the Americas who beat them.
So the Brazilian defeat had to be seen from the European penchant for tactical analysis. The consensus was that Scolari decided on the wrong tactics given his missing stars and could not recover once the team fell behind. An outlier article argued that Brazil had earned their defeat by using unsportsmanlike tactics which resulted in Neymar’s injury and thus the loss against the Germans.
The U.S. media, as exemplified by ESPN’s half-time analysis, focused on the way David Luiz was picked on the corner that resulted in the first German goal. The illustration supported their conclusion that the first half was a disastrous mix of Germany being white hot at the same time that Brazil was making juvenile mistakes. No mention was made of the relative technical skill of the opposing players on the pitch, or the fact that among the Brazilian roster only two players played on the same team while the Germans fielded six Bayern Munich based starters.
Over at Mexican Univision the analysis revolved around the poor performance of Fred and Marcelo and they wondered why these players were not being replaced by Jo and Dani Alves. To their credit, some asked why or if Fred and Jo were the best center-forward options Brazil could muster. Two commentators, in a late night analysis show, asked why Lucas Moura, Lucas Leiva, Pato, and Robinho were left off the squad.
Japan’s Yoimuri Shimbun, took the Brazilian players to task arguing that “Brazil’s defense collapsed. [In fact] the defense seemed lost from the beginning, giving up space and easy chances to the Germans. Nobody on the Brazilian side could spark its attack. Of the Brazilian’s 11 cup goals four were scored by the absent Neymar, no other striker scored, the rest of the goals came from midfielders or defenders.”
When one looks back at the Brazilian journey through this cup two things might stand out as emblematic. In a pre-cup interview Oscar said: “I looked forward to playing the 2014 World Cup with my idol, Kaka, others were dreaming of playing with Ronaldinho. But I know they will be there in spirit.” At the cup’s opening match, Kaka showed up at the sidelines with his son as the Brazilian players were warming up. Neymar himself led the line of starters who trotted over to give the Scolari reject, the rejuvenated legend, coming off a stellar season at AC Milan, a hug.
In short, Brazil lost because they had an inferior team, managed by a coach who had painted himself into a corner with his roster and tactical choices. This was a team that had no business being in the Group of 16, let alone in the semifinals. When they got there, they were missing their two world class starter-leaders who were the motors of their team, when facing the best team in the tournament bent on a mission. The defeat, if not the score line, should not have been one of this cup’s many surprises.