Brazil: The fading of the Samba

The-fading-of-the-SambaBrazil ended 2012 on a record low 18th position on the FIFA world rankings, capping the declining fortunes of football’s once greatest nation, reports ’TANA AIYEJINA

Hitherto it used to permanently maitain the top spot but as the curtain fell on 2012, Brazil finished in 18th place in the final FIFA world rankings of the year, falling five places from 13th the previous month while new superpowers Spain underlined their dominance by completing a full year as the world’s best team.

For the records, it is the lowest position Brazil has ever attained since the ranking system was introduced in January 1993.

However, the slide had been expected by followers of the South American country, whose hold to pole position as the world’s best football nation has gradually been eroded.

Respected sports journalist and football pundit, Samm Audu, believes the latest blow to Brazil’s fortunes is a manifestation of their poor form in recent years.

“We know all is not well with Brazil. For long they were number one, but things have gone bad afterwards. They just changed their coach, which means they are passing through difficult times,” Audu said.

Brazil remains the only country to have played at all the FIFA World Cup, winning it five times­—1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002- the highest wins ever by any country.

In Brazil, football is a religion. Football in the country is more than a game. It is culture. It is life. Since the reported introduction of the game to the country in 1894, Brazilians took to it like bee and honey.

They modified the sport with their own brand of free flowing, delightful play known as Jogo Bonito that drew applause from even their own rivals.

 Their brand is also known as the samba partly because of their beautiful, amazing, incredible techniques and tactical play on the pitch; and the colourful fans, who cheered every move with samba beats.

Golden generation

What is regarded as the golden generation of the country was spearheaded by a certain 17-year-old Edison Arantes do Nascimento, popularly known as Pele in 1958. The era, which lasted till 1970, saw Brazil winning the World Cup thrice, with Pele the driving force among an array of other stars like Garrincha, Gilmar, Djalma Santos, Jairzinho, Carlos Alberto Torres- who will later lead Brazil to World Cup success as coach in 1994-Tostao, Gerson and several others.

At the 1958 World Cup, Pele became the youngest player to play in a World Cup final match at 17 years and 249 days. He finished the tournament with six goals from four games and was named Young Player of The Tournament as Brazil claimed the title, then known as Jules Rimet trophy,  for the first time.

Though Pele played a bit role in their next triumph four years later in Chile due to injury, Brazil triumphed. They completed their treble in 1970 as Pele again, Carlos Alberto Torres, Jairzinho, Tostão, Gérson and Rivelino powered the Selecao to a historic victory, as they became the first side to win the World Cup for keeps.

Dry patch

After the retirement of Pele and his era of stars, Brazil didn’t win a World Cup again until 24 years later in the United States of America. Their lack of trophies during this long period was not a true reflection of the large number of world-class players the country produced.

In fact, the 1982 team under coach Tele Santana had greats like Socrates, Zico, Falcao, Junior and Eder and are still regarded as the greatest assemblage of players never to win the World Cup.

Short reign

Brazil bounced back to reckoning again in 1994 winning the World Cup. They beat Italy in the final on penalties, this time with a new generation of players that had the likes of Romario, Bebeto, Dunga, Claudio Taffarel, Jorginho and an emerging Ronaldo de Lima, who would later become the overall top goalscorer in World Cups with 15 goals from 1998 to 2006. Ronaldo, then 17 years of age, didn’t play any match at the ’94 World Cup.

Most observers argued however, that the ’94 side was a far cry from the ones that won the first three World Cups.

At the next edition in France, Brazil’s success rested on the young shoulders of now 21-year-old Ronaldo and he didn’t disappoint as he steered the side to the final, scoring four goals with three assists.

But tragedy struck on the night before the final against hosts France as Ronaldo suffered a convulsive fit. He had a below par performance in the performance and was pulled out after he was injured in a collision with French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez as Brazil lost the final 3–0.

But they were back stronger in 2002 in Korea and Japan, as they won the competition for a record five times with Ronaldo scoring eight goals. That was the country’s last World Cup triumph.

The success of that squad is largely hinged on what was referred to as the ‘Three R’s’ -Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho.

Nevertheless, Ronaldo scored three goals again at Germany 2006 to become the highest scorer in World Cup history as Brazil were knocked out by France 1-0 in the quarter-final.

Top of the charts

The Selecao’s dominance of world football between 1994 and 1998 was reflective in the FIFA world rankings, which was initiated in 1993. They annexed the Team of The Year award six times from 1994 to 1999 and then five times again between 2002 and 2006.

But it was evident that the Selecao’s fortunes were dwindling even with the achievements within this period.  Brazil’s quality of football gradually moved further away from that of the golden era.

Change of style

Brazil was known for creative play, magical touches and excellent players. These days they play a 4-5-1 formation, which is more defensive compared to the Brazil of old which applied the 4-2-2-2, with the left and right backs acting as wingers and creating a free-flowing rhythm.

Cafu, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho offered the flair and fun the old Brazil once offered, but lasted only a short while.

Grass-roots/ economic problems

According to a survey, the grass-roots is a major factor in the Latin American country’s decline. Players back in the day would only play football, spend limited time at school and play football on the streets, until it got dark or their parents called them in.

But times have changed, a booming economy has opened the streets to cars and this has closed the streets to the days of playing football.

The housing and increasing population has put pressure on urban areas and empty sites where kids used to play football are now covered in flats and housing projects.

The country still produces a significant number of kids playing football but the number of playing areas and kids is on the decline. The players may be turning up in numbers, but the quality is just not there.

And it is evident in the national team. In recent times, Santos forward, Neymar, seems the only big and world-class talent that has been discovered. The media has celebrated him but at just only 20, he is yet to prove that he is the messiah.

The likes of Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Roberto Carlos are yet to be replaced in the squad since they retired.

When these players were on the scene, there was always a Brazilian international nominated for the best player in the world award, but since 2007, they have failed to be listed.

Europe exodus

Some have argued that the exodus of the country’s brightest stars to lucrative European leagues have impacted negatively on the team. Young talents migrate to fulfill their dreams but most fail to mature.

Those who have made their marks are often seen as being consumed by fame and money and have dumped Brazil’s traditional training method of intensive creative ball work for Europe’s physical aggression and power.

Managerial problems

Audu says managerial factor has also affected Brazil. “There is a lot of hype around them (Brazil) while other teams are catching up.

“Also, you can’t rule out management.  You can see the Local Organising Committee struggling to meet the 2014 World Cup deadline. And these are people basically running football in Brazil.”

2014 World Cup

As hosts of the 2014 World Cup, Brazil do not have to play qualifiers and this lack of competitive football has undoubtedly had an effect on their recent slide in world football.

This 201 has seen some highs for the national side, notably a 4-0 win over Japan and victory over Argentina in the superclassico, but it has largely been a negative 12 months for the Selecao.

The team has played a large number of friendly matches against considerably inferior opposition such as Bosnia and Iraq.  Their principal target for the year, gold at the Olympic Games in London, ended in failure.

Brazil lost in the final to Mexico and once again their preparedness was called to question as the clock ticks down to June 2014.

After that defeat, coach Mano Menezes was sacked and replaced by Luiz Felipe Scolari, the man in charge when Brazil won their last World Cup back in 2002.

But Audu insists you can never write off Brazil.

“They still have a chance to pull up a magic in 2014, especially when they will be playing in front of their passionate home fans.”

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