Usually Brazil's premature exit from a World Cup provokes crushing disappointment , not only on the beaches of Rio, but around the world as every neutrals supposed favourite team leaves the stage to less attractive and exciting rivals.
Will the same emotions be felt after the selecao's quarter final defeat by Holland yesterday? Why was this Brazil squad so difficult to love?
The diving was annoying. In the second round match against Chile, Maicon scandalously avoided a booking when , having lost the ball near the touchline, he threw himself to the ground in order to win a free kick. He was following the example set by his captain , Lucio. The Inter centre half is one of the finest defenders in the world, but seems to have spent as much of his career writhing is apparent agony, trying to win fouls as he has repelling opposition attacks. For a man of six feet two inches and weighing over thirteen stones to fall over so much when barely touched by an opponent is frankly embarrassing , but when you are captain of Brazil this disgraceful behaviour is apparently acceptable and seldom punished.
Diving is hardly a new phenomenon and not exclusive to the men in the golden shirts of Brazil, but it is because that shirt has near mythical status , given the wonderful players who have worn it through the history of the World Cup, that the disappointment is felt so much more keenly when these "footballing gods" resort to tactics of mere mortals. T
If the diving and petty fouling is a disappointment , the tactics cause even more dismay. For men of a certain age, the name "Brazil" conjures up images of Pele, Carlos Alberto, Garrincha, Jairzinho, Rivelino et al and the joga bonito (beautiful game) . It is the way the Brazilian fans and media expect their team to play but the current coach Dunga neither plays nor coaches in that manner. He is a pragmatist. Brazil 2010 play much the same way that the 1994 winners ,which he captained , did. Cautious hard running ball winners in the centre of midfield and what little flair there is restricted to the forward positions.
Brazil is scarred by the memory of one of its finest sides failing to win the tournament. In 1982, a side boasting a midfield of Zico, Socrates, Falcao, Eder and Cerezo crashed out to Italy in the second round. Looking at that quintet , there is not a tackler or a ball winner among them and to compound the problem, the two full backs Junior and Oscar wanted a piece of joga bonito too, playing like wingers. The Italians played on the counter and picked them off, reborn predator Paolo Rossi helping himself to a hat trick
Dunga, eighteen at the time and not in the squad , may have learned a formative lesson: that the "Joga" that is too "bonito" causes problems . Brazil may have still have triumphed had injured star striker Careca not missed the finals. His replacement Serginho had all the mobility of a statue and the touch of a pregnant hippo in the throes of labour. When the remnants of that team again failed in 1986, a new, defensive approach was adopted.
Ever since then , there have been elements in Brazil favouring a more "European " approach, providing Brazil still won. That was the tightrope act Dunga performed in South Africa. Increasingly alienating the media with his confrontational approach and disappointing the fans by refusing to select flair players such as Ronaldinho, Pato and Adriano, as long as he returned home with the trophy he would be forgiven. Tolerated but not loved. Elimination and he would be thrown to the wolves.
Brazil , while never inspiring great joy in the competition, marched onwards , even taking control of the quarter final against Holland and the lead. But they failed to find a second goal and when Julio Cesar, imperious in goal for Internazionale and Brazil all season , came for an early second half Dutch cross and missed it , causing Felipe Melo's disastrous own goal , their aura of invincibility evaporated and with it went their discipline . Holland scored again from a cross the hitherto secure Brazilian defence failed to deal with then Bastos and Alves lost their positional sense , committing silly fouls that disrupted the Brazilian rhythm and Melo , having endured a torrid season with Juventus, he was voted worst player in Italy, lost his head, stamping on Arjen Robben and was dismissed by the Japanese referee.
Dunga's men , behind for the first time in the competition and reduced to ten men, were unable to find an escape route , becoming more and more desperate and reckless . Kaka their one real star , looked as if he had not fully recovered from his injury plagued season in Madrid and could not save them. Out they went looking shell shocked after forty five minutes of madness to the metaphorical sound of knives sharpening back home.
The clamour for Dunga's head will reach fever pitch in his native land now , his gamble of sacrificing style for substance has backfired, as the players he trusted failed their first big test of the competition, with the path to semi final and final beckoning.
The only thing more galling for Brazil would be if their bitter rivals, Argentina negotiated a route to the final through the more difficult half of the draw and won the cup playing football that would not look out of place from the men in gold: an exciting front three and expansive midfield compensating for a less than watertight defence and erratic goalkeeper.
Might silver be the new gold?