No, it was nowhere near as traumatic as last summer’s 7-1 loss to Germany that saw Brazil eliminated from the World Cup. But the Selecao’s exit from the Copa America on Saturday after losing to Paraguay on penalties did seem a suitably inglorious exit for a team that’s now failed to catch fire in two successive major tournaments.
Big Phil Scolari, the man presiding over last summer’s Germany loss, was sacked immediately afterwards. But even at the time, the reappointment of Dunga didn’t seem like the best way to take the team forward. Twelve months later, we have confirmation that assumption was correct. While Dunga’s team didn’t have to bear the crippling pressure of hosting the tournament on its own soil, they were pretty dismal for most of the Copa.
Just as he had last summer, Neymar provided a touch of inspiration here and there in the early going. But just as last summer, once he was eliminated, on a red card suspension this time, everything fell apart.
With Neymar out, Dunga was forced to rely on an aging Robinho. Like Neymar, Robinho, who failed at Real Madrid, Manchester City and AC Milan, had been hailed as the “new Pele” earlier in his career. Although even at the ripe old age of 32, the Santos man provided Brazil’s sole moment of class against Paraguay, when he tapped in Dani Alves’ cross after a well-worked move to give Brazil the lead in the 15th minute.
At that point, Brazil had a chance to take control of the match. But instead, Dunga’s team became arrogant, overconfident and complacent. For the remaining 79 minutes, Brazil sat back and provided absolutely nothing going forward. In fact Robinho’s goal was their sole touch in the opposition side in the entire first half. Eventually, it would be a moment of madness from Brazil’s best defender, Thiago Silva, that would lead to Paraguay’s equalizer. Leaping into the air with his arm aloft, the Paris Saint-Germain man gave up a penalty that was duly converted by Derlis Gonzalez.
With the game tied 1-1 at full-time, it was left to penalties to decide. Penalty shootouts are always a crapshoot and on a different day, Brazil might have prevailed. Who knows, they might have then gone on to win the final, but probably not. It’s a testament to how dull and uninspired they were that no one has even mustered the argument that they deserved to go through.
The problem last summer, apart from Neymar’s injury, was supposedly the pressure of playing the World Cup at home. But this summer, host nation Chile has been the best team of the tournament and is favored to win. Perhaps the real problem is a sense of entitlement that pervades the Brazil team and its supporters.
And even with the current dearth of world-class attackers, there are coaches other than Dunga who could have made a better showing at this Copa using the player pool that’s available. While there are fewer Brazilian forwards currently plying their trade at top sides in Europe than usual, one of the better ones, PSG’s Lucas Moura, was left off the squad entirely.
But in the rush to lambast another calamitous failure at a major tournament from Brazil, we must not overlook how tough, organized and resilient this Paraguay team is. This is the second Copa America in a row in which Paraguay has knocked Brazil out on penalties. Regarded as a spent force going into the tournament, Paraguay is now through to the semis where it faces Argentina, a team it’s already held to a draw once in this tournament. While Argentina remains the favorite to progress Tuesday, the result is by no means a foregone conclusion.