Where Does Brazil's 2014 World Cup Campaign Rank Historically?
Brazil’s 2014 World Cup campaign will be remembered as a huge disappointment despite finishing in the top four of the tournament.
The Selecao has been the most successful team in World Cup history and the only one to participate in all 20 editions. It has won five Cups, a record that no one has matched, and has built its reputation on spectacular football performances by some of the world’s all-time greatest footballers.
Which is why the quality of football can sometimes be more important than the place in which the Selecao finishes the tournament—unless they win it, then the how doesn’t matter as much.
The following is a rank of all Brazil’s World Cup campaigns, taking into consideration wins, historic relevance, the football quality displayed, and the place in which they ended in the tournament.
20. Italy 1934
Only once did Brazil contest a World Cup with just a knock-out round format and was eliminated after its first and only game. This can barely be considered a campaign but it was statistically its worst-ever participation as they finished in 14th out of 16 competitors.
Brazil’s time in Italy ’34 was ephemeral; they had just arrived when they already had to leave. Their only match was against Spain and they lost 3-1. Brazil’s only goal was scored by striker Leonidas, who would show all his potential four years later in France.
19. Uruguay 1930
Only twice has Brazil been eliminated in the group stage—the first time it happened was in the first World Cup, held in Uruguay.
In a group of only three teams, Brazil finished as the group runner-up after losing its first-ever World Cup match 2-1 against Yugoslavia and then beating Bolivia 4-0. Only the winners of the group went on to advance at the time.
Preguinho was the first player that ever scored a goal for Brazil in the Cup and he ended the tournament with three goals, while teammate Moderato scored twice.
18. England 1966
This was the second time, and the last to date, in which Brazil was eliminated in the group stage.
A mix of players from the generation that had won back-to-back world championships and a new generation that was yet to triumph in Mexico ’70 wasn’t able to succeed, in part due to the injuries that haunted Pele and Garrincha. Pele particularly was hugely punished by Bulgaria’s and Portugal’s violent game which refs did little to stop.
The campaign to retain the title for a second time started out promisingly with a 2-0 win over Bulgaria, but at a very high price as Pele was injured and couldn’t play in the next match, when Hungary defeated Brazil 3-1 and this time Garrincha ended up injured.
For the final group-stage match a diminished Pele came back to the starting lineup but that wasn’t enough to save the campaign and avoid the disappointing ending as the Selecao lost 3-1 against Portugal.
17. Italy 1990
World Cups held in Italy are just not Brazil’s thing. The Selecao was eliminated in the Round of 16 for its first and only time in 1990; it was its worst finish and worst goal productivity since England ’66.
Brazil had a perfect group-stage round with three wins over Sweden, Costa Rica and Scotland. However, it was clear by then that the magic from the '80s Brazil was gone and that defensive schemes were the priority in a generation that featured the likes of Claudio Taffarel, Dunga, Romario and Bebeto for the first time in a World Cup—players and schemes that Carlos Alberto Parreira took advantage of in the successful USA ’94 campaign.
The most painful part of the elimination was that it came against historic rival Argentina in the only direct knockout game they have played between them in a World Cup. The Argentinian fans have been keen to remind Brazilians about that game through the whole 2014 World Cup with a famous chant popularly known as “Brasil decime que se siente…” (Brazil tell me how does it feel…).
16. Switzerland 1954
Brazil shared the group with three teams but the format dictated they would only face two of them. The Selecao debuted with a 5-0 demolition of Mexico and then came out with a 1-1 draw, with extra-time included, against Yugoslavia. Brazil did not face France, who were also in the group, and advanced to the quarter-finals as the top seeded team of Group 1.
In the second round of the tournament Brazil faced a European powerhouse at the time, Hungary. The East Europeans eliminated the Selecao with a final score of 4-2. It was the first time that the South Americans were eliminated in the quarter-finals, something that would be repeated three more times.
This was also the World Cup in which Brazil stopped using the white jersey and started wearing the now famous yellow and green one.
15. Brazil 2014
What was supposed to be the tournament to close the wound from 1950 ended in another nightmare. Luiz Felipe Scolari relied on a squad with limited quality and his own defensive and motivational skills to take Brazil to the Hexa (sixth championship); he failed miserably.
Things didn’t go as planned from the beginning. Brazil were first in their group but left many doubts in their football performances after beating Croatia and Cameroon and a draw against Mexico.
In the round of 16 things didn’t change much and thanks to the crossbar and Julio Cesar, Brazil continued to advance. The Selecao defeated Colombia in the quarter-finals but at the high cost of losing its main star and its captain—Neymar and Thiago Silva respectively—for the sem-ifinal.
There, Brazil were humiliated by Germany, who demolished the Selecao 7-1. Mentally destroyed, Scolari’s squad still had to face the Netherlands for third place, and lost again. But even if they had won against the Netherlands, nothing could save what happened against the Germans.
Brazil achieved many negative records with the last two defeats, but still made it to the top four of the world. The campaign as a whole wasn’t unsuccessful.
For now, this Selecao will be deemed as the worst, talent and football quality-wise, but it is not the worst place wise. Making it to the semi-finals for any other team would have been a success. And the fact that this team with less talent than Brazil had in 2006 and 2010 and made it further has its own merit.
The problem for this Brazil is the shameful way in which it was eliminated, a wound that won’t be able to be closed just like the “Maracanazo” one from 64 years ago. Brazil will have to learn to live with the wound as it did after Brazil 1950.
14. South Africa 2010
With Dunga as the coach, Brazil were drawn into what was labelled a “group of death” along with Portugal and the Ivory Coast, and complemented with North Korea. Dunga’s team had little trouble finish on top of the group after beating the Asian and African sides and coming out with a 0-0 draw against the Europeans.
Going through the round of 16 was easier than expected as they beat Marcelo Bielsa’s Chile 3-0. The Canarinha made it to the quarter-final for the fifth straight World Cup but were eliminated in that round for the second World Cup in a row after a 2-1 comeback victory from the Netherlands. Julio Cesar’s mistakes against the Europeans were crucial in the elimination.
For the second straight World Cup, Brazil’s failed in their main responsibility, of showcasing the Brazilian magic. Kaka was the Ronaldinho of 2010, while Luis Fabiano and Robinho had their moments but were not the quality players that the Selecao was used to in its recent history.
13. Germany 2006
Coming from playing a record three World Cup finals in a row and with Ronaldinho in his prime, Brazil carried the favourite tag as usual in Germany. As was almost a norm during World Cups in the new century, Brazil had a perfect group stage, where it had Croatia, Australia and Japan as its victims.
In the second round, Brazil didn’t have much trouble beating Ghana 3-0. However, everything ended with a defeat in the quarter-finals at the hands of Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry and the French. France have eliminated Brazil from World Cups more than any other team in the knockout rounds.
Ronaldinho was a huge disappointment as he barely showed any of his weekly magic at Barcelona and didn’t score a single goal either.
The positive note for Brazil in this World Cup was that with the three goals scored in Germany, Ronaldo became the player with the most goals in the history of the tournament. A record that only lasted for eight years.
12. Mexico 1986
They say second parts are never as good as the first ones—that became a reality for the 1980s Brazil that took a second shot at the title in Mexico. But with Falcao on the bench and an injured Zico coming in as a substitute, things were just not the same as in 1982.
Brazil still managed to take all the points in the group stage, this time by beating Spain and Algeria by identical 1-0 scores and then with a 3-0 win over Northern Ireland. In the round of 16 they had their most convincing performance of the tournament when they ran over Poland 4-0.
If anything was better for the 1986 Brazil compared to the 1982 version, it was their centre-forward—Careca scored five goals in Mexico.
In the quarter-finals, Brazil faced France, two teams with a generation that saw their best days in Spain 1982. Santana’s Selecao once again played an epic and memorable match just like it did against Italy four years earlier—and yet again it came out as the loser.
This time the heartbreaking defeat came with unlikely villains as Zico missed a penalty kick in regular time and Socrates missed in the penalty shootout.
11. Germany 1974
The post-Pele World Cup era didn’t have a brilliant start as Brazil tied 0-0 with Yugoslavia and Scotland. They went on to qualify as the second seed of the group after defeating a weak Zaire squad 3-0.
In the second group stage Brazil showed a better face after beating East Germany 2-1 and their hated South American rival Argentina 2-1. In the decisive match to make it to the final, Brazil fell 2-0 against the magnificent Johan Cruyff’s Netherlands. The Selecao had to settle for the third place match which they lost against Poland.
Brazil’s squad relied on what was left of the 1970 dream team, specifically Rivellino and Jairzinho, but it wasn’t enough to make it to the final.
10. Argentina 1978
This was the last time to date in which Brazil made it out of the regular group stage in second place. The oddity happened due to a couple of draws against Sweden and Spain and a 1-0 victory over Austria.
The tournament featured a second group stage in which Brazil kept its unbeaten streak by beating Peru 3-0, Poland 3-1 and a 0-0 tie against the host country Argentina. Those results would have been enough to make it to the final if Argentina hadn’t able to beat Peru by four goals. Brazil’s faith was misplaced as Peru lost to Cesar Luis Menotti’s squad by six goals.
In Rivellino’s last appearance and Zico’s first in the most important football tournament, Brazil finished third after defeating Italy in the playoff. This is the only time the Selecao ended the tournament unbeaten and had no World Cup trophy to show for it.
9. France 1938
This was the first time that Brazil had a successful World Cup campaign and made it to the semi-finals.
In a straight knock-out round format, Brazil began with an epic 6-5 victory over Poland in extra time. Leonidas started on his way to becoming the top goalscorer of the 1938 World Cup with a hat-trick against the Polish.
In the quarter-finals, the rival was Czechoslovakia, and after a 1-1 draw they had a replay two days later. Brazil came out with alternative players but with star striker Leonidas still in the starting lineup. The Selecao went on to win 2-1 and Leonidas helped the Brazilian cause with a goal, but he got injured and wasn’t able to recover for the semi-final against Italy.
The first-ever match between powerhouses Italy and Brazil in a World Cup ended with a 2-1 victory for the Europeans who went on to conquer their second world championship. Brazil had to settle for a third-place finish after defeating Sweden 4-2, with Leonidas back in the starting XI and scoring a brace that sealed his place as the top striker of the tournament.
8. Spain 1982
The most spectacular and praised Brazil side after the one from Mexico ’70. The only big difference with the other great Brazilian teams, and their only sin, is that they weren’t able to win the Cup.
Led by manager Tele Santana and with players with undeniable Brazilian skill DNA such as Zico, Socrates and Falcao, the Selecao managed a perfect first group stage in which they beat the Soviet Union 2-1 and then crushed Scotland and New Zealand 4-1 and 4-0 respectively.
In the second group stage, with only three teams, the Selecao started by beating the world champions Argentina 3-1. But they failed to advance after being defeated 3-2 by the antagonistic Catenaccio style from Italy.
7. Brazil 1950
Everything was set for Brazil to win its first World Cup and everything went according to plan after crushing Mexico 4-0, a 2-2 tie against Switzerland and a 2-0 victory over Yugoslavia to end as the group’s leader that gave them the right to play for the title in a final group stage format.
Ademir, Chico, Baltazar, Jair and Zizinho were the names of the heroes that played another three games against Sweden, Spain and Uruguay in order to finally get the craved Cup.
Brazil was living a carnival-like atmosphere after crushing Sweden 7-1 and Spain 6-1. Against Uruguay all Brazil needed was a tie to crown themselves in front of the 200,000 fans that were present at the Maracana to witness the Selecao’s first victorious World Cup campaign. After Friaca scored for Brazil early in the second half it was unthinkable that Uruguay would come back, especially not when Brazil’s greatest goalkeeper was guarding the goal.
However, Barbosa couldn’t stop Juan Aberto Schiaffino’s and Alcides Ghiggia’s shots and Uruguay silenced the stadium and the entirety of the country as they took the Cup. The episode will forever be known as the “Maracanazo”.
As a sidenote, Ademir ended the tournament as the top goalscorer, but that didn’t matter—there was no possible comfort for Brazil.
6. France 1998
Brazil regained some of its beautiful game style when Mario Zagallo returned for a second stint as the coach and had Ronaldo in an unstoppable mode. He, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos and Bebeto were Brazil’s top weapons to retain the title.
The Selecao started with triumphs over Scotland and Morocco and surprisingly lost to Norway in the last game of the group stage. Despite the uncontemplated loss, they still advanced as the winner of the group.
In the round of 16, Brazil crushed Chile 4-1 and in an entertaining match in the quarter-finals they defeated Denmark 3-2. Things got harder in the semi-final against a powerful star-studded Netherlands, but in the end Brazil won on penalties.
The final was against the host country France. Brazil had never lost a final away from home, but an unfortunate and unexpected event the day prior to the match changed everything. Brazil’s top star and striker, Ronaldo, convulsed and many speculations and myths were born.
Whatever happened ended up affecting Brazil psychologically and Ronaldo was visibly diminished during the final. France played its game and ended up crushing Brazil 3-0.
5. USA 1994
It had been 24 years since Brazil had won its last World Cup and it finally gained its fourth star when Carlos Alberto Parreira decided to sacrifice the spectacular Brazilian football style for effectiveness. Parreira’s method worked.
Brazil finished first in their group by defeating Russia and Cameroon and only leaving points behind after a tie with Sweden. In the knockout rounds before the final, the Selecao managed to be solid in defense and effective enough on top. Brazil defeated the US 1-0 in the round of 16, the Netherlands 3-2 in the quarter-finals and Sweden 1-0 in the semi-finals.
With Dunga as the captain and symbol of the team and the Romario-Bebeto duo on top, Brazil ended an unbeaten campaign by lifting the trophy—but not before playing the most boring final in the history of the tournament after drawing 0-0 with Italy and Roberto Baggio taking the worst penalty shot in his career.
4. Korea-Japan 2002
Brazil conquered its fifth championship with the defensive tactics of Luiz Felipe Scolari and the capacity of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho to dismantle the opponents’ backlines.
The 2002 Brazil had a perfect campaign, as it won all seven games played. It all started with victories over Turkey, China and Costa Rica in the group stage. Then came a 2-0 win over Belgium, a 2-1 victory over England and a 1-0 triumph in the semi-final against Turkey once again.
The final was played against Germany, in what was the first-ever game between the two most successful World Cup teams. With a brace scored by Ronaldo, Brazil took the trophy back home. Ronaldo finished the tournament as the top goalscorer with eight goals.
3. Chile 1962
Brazil’s only truly successful World Cup campaign played in South America was in Chile 1962. Brazil were able to win back-to-back championships, an honor that is only shared with Italy.
It all started as planned when the Selecao beat Mexico in the campaign opener 2-0, with goals from Pele and Mario Zagallo. Then came a 0-0 draw against Czechoslovakia, but the highlight was that “O Rei” ended the game injured and he was out for the remainder of the Cup.
However, Brazil showed they were much more than Pele. Amarildo proved to be a worthy replacement for the No. 10 jersey, Vava contributed with his usual goal quota, and more importantly, Garrincha carried the team on his back. It was Mane’s Cup.
Brazil went on to finish first in the group after beating Spain 2-1, and in their road to the final they defeated England 3-1 and Chile 4-2. In the final, Brazil faced Czechoslovakia again. The Europeans went ahead but Brazil made a comeback and ended up winning 3-1.
Garrincha and Vava ended as the top goalscorers (tied with four other players) after scoring four goals each.
2. Sweden 1958
It was in Sweden that Brazil turned the tables and started filling its trophy room with World Cups.
Brazil’s campaign started with a 3-0 victory over Austria and a 0-0 draw against England. But it was in the last group stage match that coach Vicente Feola made the genius changes in the lineup. Feola included youngsters Edson Arantes do Nascimento ("Pele") and Manuel Francisco dos Santos ("Garrincha") in the game against the Soviet Union, which Brazil won 2-0, with a brace from Vava.
Pele and Garrincha continued to impress with their dribbling skills and the audacity of their game through the tournament.
In the quarter-final game against Wales, Brazil won 1-0 with Pele’s first goal in a World Cup and went on to crush France in the semi-final 5-2 with a hat-trick from “O Rei” complemented by goals from Didi and Vava.
Brazil crowned itself for the first time in history by beating the host country. Pele and Vava scored a brace each and Mario Zagallo scored once to beat Sweden with a convincing 5-2 win.
This is the only time that a non-European team has ever won a World Cup played in Europe.
1. Mexico 1970
The 1970 Brazil side is considered not only the best Selecao of all-time, but arguably the best team to ever win the World Cup. Taking into account wins, goals scored and football quality, this Brazil had it all. It was also the first Brazil to win all its matches on the way to lifting the Cup.
The star studded Selecao coached by retired Mario Zagallo, orchestrated by Pele on the pitch and captained by Carlos Alberto displayed the most spectacular magical football remembered. It all started by taking first place in its group by beating the European squads of Czechoslovakia, Romania and the defending world champions England.
In the subsequent rounds, Brazil faced South American rivals. In the quarter-final match they defeated Peru 4-2 and then took a little revenge for the 1950 tragedy in the semi-final by beating Uruguay 3-1.
The opponent for the final was Italy. Whoever won the final had the privilege of taking the Jules Rimet trophy forever as the first team to win it three times. Brazil demolished Italy 4-1 with an outstanding second half performance at the Aztec Stadium. It was the perfect ending for the most successful Golden Era of any team ever.
The dream team comprised of Pele, Jairzinho, Rivellino, Tostao, Gerson, Carlos Alberto, Clodoaldo, Everaldo, Piazza, Brito and Felix became immortal for transforming football into art.
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