By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (July 8, 2014) US Soccer Players – So there Brazil was, struggling in the group stage against Croatia and Mexico. The evidence was already there, the problems already causing concern for the home fans. Needing penalties to get past Chile at the Round of 16, a return to form in the quarterfinals against Colombia cost them their superstar. Neymar was out, and Brazil needed answers quickly. Scolari tried to use that for motivation.
“He has done his share,” Scolari said before the Germany game. “Now it’s up to us to do our share. This match we’ll be playing not just for ourselves but for our country, for everything we’ve ever dreamed of, but also for Neymar and everything he’s done for us. Within our group, we’ve accepted that. We’ve left our sad phase behind and we’re focusing on other things.”
Once again, it’s very easy to pick apart quotes after we know the result. That’s not the point. Scolari did what he should’ve, attempting to turn a substantial negative into a solidarity moment. He extended that from the playing squad to the team’s fans. That’s a World Cup level move, one with high risk and high reward. Scolari chose to raise expectations for the biggest game so far in the 2014 World Cup and it backfired. That’s part of the game.
There’s no kind way of treating a team that collapses at World Cup level. It’s not the place for a soft landing. We saw that with Spain and Portugal in the group stage, and Brazil follows those lackluster examples. Losing at World Cup level is one thing. Losing badly at World Cup level normally triggers a change in coaching, tactics, and players.
Brazil losing wasn’t exactly a surprise. This was never a dominate team even before Neymar’s injury in the quarterfinal stage. Without Neymar, Brazil had no choice but to adjust. Those adjustments might not explain giving up four goals between the 23rd and 29th minutes against Germany on Tuesday. Easy to say now that we know how easily Germany took Brazil apart, and that’s part of the problem.
It’s up to a small group to determine what comes next for Brazil’s National Team. Everyone around the world watching the response of Brazil fans in the stadium knows the pressure now on the Brazilian Football Confederation. Their response can’t come quickly enough, and again that only adds to the problem.
For Brazil, this era wasn’t marked with a tactical revolution like Spain’s tiki-taka. In part all Brazil was prior to Tuesday night was more of the same. This was a team we know. They take generation after generation of world-class players and normally produce one or two better than the rest. The game flows around those super-elite players. We know for Brazil it takes more. Otherwise, the game stalls around those same super-elite players.
More than the presence of yet another candidate for best player in the world in their starting lineup, Brazil’s latest incarnation benefitted from the tactical acumen of its coach. Big Phil Scolari might not have the same modern soccer pedigree as a Jose Mourinho or Pep Guardiola, but he does have the results. Those certainly count, with Scolari showing more than once he can make a team better. For Brazil in the cycle that led to the 2014 World Cup, that meant keeping his team strong while playing an exhibition schedule.
FIFA itself dinged Brazil over that non-competitive schedule. Without any World Cup qualifiers to play as hosts of the tournament, Brazil slid down the world rankings. This was unfair and unfortunate. Brazil remained arguably one of the best teams in the world, and certainly deserving of the top ten. Instead, they slid down the table convincing no one that they were anything other than the World Cup favorite.
Why are the much maligned FIFA World Rankings important? On their own they’re not. It’s what they represent when the process allows a team like Brazil to end up falling down the chart. Good teams don’t need the help of hosting to qualify. What they need is what qualifying requires. Games that count, adverse conditions, and what that teaches any coach about his squad and the team about itself.
Brazil deserved better. They needed games that counted, with the Confederations Cup their only outlet. Of course, Brazil won last summer’s World Cup warm-up. That was part of the plot for a team that didn’t need to remind anyone of their status. Brazil is still Brazil after losing badly to Germany. Now, they’re looking for a quick revival. What Brazil has for the 2018 World Cup cycle is simple. More games that count.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org.
More from J Hutcherson: