NEYMAR and conclude
Brazil won the quarter final against Colombia, but the headlines back then weren’t all about David Luiz’s free kick. They were all about Zuniga’s toxic kick in Neymar’s back. Despite setting up a semi-final date with Germany after what was actually a promising performance, Brazilians were all talking about the then 21 year old’s terrible injury. From my own memory of being in Brazil at that time, Brazilians were generally all scared and too upset at losing the gifted player. That was the problem. All the focus was on a broken bone, not on the German challenge ahead. The Brazil players walked in with ‘Forca Neymar’ caps, which was criticised by the newly appointed CBF general coordinator after the World Cup It ‘killed’ the Brazil players, as described by the new general coordinator, and distracted their focus. Brazil’s heads before that match was not focussed and concentrated on the massive task ahead. It was about ‘winning it for Neymar’, exactly at the time when it absolutely should not have been. Importantly, not many at the time mentioned the yellow card Thiago Silva received (for kicking a ball away) in the quarter final, which got him suspended from the semi final. He, after all, was the captain. He was to miss the hardest game yet for Brazil, thanks to a careless mistake. That was the real miss.
In spite of the fact Brazil poorly used Neymar’s injury to bolster their ambition, Brazil needed spirit and passion when going into the game, but they needed focus and composure too. Nevertheless, the hype around Neymar was not what they needed. A feverous and passionate national anthem wasn’t what they needed either. Do you remember the custom Brazil national anthem before every Confederations Cup and World Cup game in 2013 and 2014, right? Where they sang through FIFA’s shortened background version, with the stadium passionately backing them up? It had become a ritual, a sort of symbol of that team. But Germany was no Spain, no Chile nor Colombia. Germany were an organised team in the World Cup, and that is the last part where Brazil really went wrong. That is, I believe, where focus went out the window and where any tactical plans vanished. David Luiz, the captain in that game, and Julio Cesar gripped onto a shirt of Neymar together. That is an image that is stuck with me in my head. It is one I just do not understand. Can they learn their lessons going into Russia?
The Brazil of 2017 is opposite to that of 2014. It looks a much stronger and more powerful team. Perhaps they have learnt from some mistakes of 2014, abandoning David Luiz, who was the largely at fault in 7-1. Brazil have effectively reshaped its football with its relentless attacking trio: Neymar, Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus. Though Dunga’s takeover was embarrassing, with two early exits from the Copa America in 2015 and the 100 year anniversary in 2016, Brazil have since won gold at their home Olympics and Tite has led Brazil to be unbeaten in the qualifiers. That has left Brazil amongst the strong favourites for next year. They do look very strong indeed… but so did the Brazil of 2013. Could this 2017 team be going in for a repeat of another embarrassment in 2018? Players may not be as strong as they seem: Renato Augusto, for example, has been one of the preferred central midfielder, but he still plays in China. Tite has little international experience, and has never managed outside Brazil so can he really deal with a group of players where most play in Europe? What happens if Neymar gets injured? Brazil must learn from past mistakes, especially those that I believe led to the disaster of 7-1. However, I do believe the talent is there for the ‘hexa’. They can do it, but Tite must ensure his players concentrate on the football. They can’t fall into silly mistakes, like Thiago Silva did in the quarter against Colombia. They have to be ready for any opposition, whether it’s big underdogs or great nations like Germany. In 2014, Brazil did not do any of this. That’s why 7-1 was no coincidence.