Brazil, by their lofty standards, have had a barren run in international football in recent years, but the signs are that this great football nation is ready to bounce back.
Brazil may be synonymous with football, but since the 2007 Copa America victory, the Seleção have often been rudderless, struggling to find a philosophy – let alone their distinct version of o jogo bonito, the beautiful game.
They suffered an all-time low two years ago with the humiliating 7-1 defeat to Germany, a result which knocked them out of their home World Cup. As nadirs go, only the Maracanazo, when they lost what was effectively the 1950 final (the format was very different then) at home to neighbours Uruguay can possibly compare to that evening at the Mineirão stadium.
Footballing Schuhplattler, not Samba, was danced on the field on July 8, 2014. And it hurt, really hurt.
Next up, consecutive disasters at the Copa America. In 2015, a quarter-final exit to Paraguay on penalties, before an ignominious exit in 2016, when Brazil failed to get out of a group featuring Ecuador, Peru and Haiti. The coach, Dunga, immediately lost his job.
After three catastrophes in as many years, the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio offered a potential tonic but also another chance to slip up. Surely they couldn’t disappoint at four tournaments in three summers, two on home turf? Yet this looked increasingly likely after desperate goalless draws against the mighty South Africa and Iran in the group stage.
Moreover, comfortable knock-out victories against Colombia and Honduras provided the perfect chance for redemption: a final against Germany at the Maracanã. Sealing the title on penalties was particularly meaningful for Brazil, not least because it was set up perfectly for Neymar to score the fifth and decisive spot-kick.
The demons of July 8, 2014 were not fully exorcised, but after all the disappointments, including losing the 2012 Olympic final to Mexico, the pressure was sizeable. It was the moment we may look to in years to come as the day Brazilian football was reborn.
Olympic party over, first up for new coach Tite in the arduous South American qualifying for Russia 2018 was Thursday’s tough trip to Quito to face the table’s early front-runners, Ecuador. Having not won away this campaign, and without a win in Ecuador since 1983, a 3-0 win was a fine result.
Sure, Brazil were limited in the first half; but given that they hold the key to qualification, any overseas victory in South America is to be cherished. Individually, most impressive was Manchester City-bound Gabriel Jesus, already looking like a bargain at £20 million. Jesus was at the heart of Brazil’s best play, winning the penalty and scoring two goals. Easing the pressure on Neymar was the priority for the new Brazil, and Jesus looks set to oblige.
It may seem a little early to be predicting a Brazilian renaissance, but there are plenty of signs that they have turned the corner. In a country where the pressures of playing for the national team are like none other, the significance of winning the Olympics, a relatively minor tournament, should not be underestimated. If not in Russia, they will certainly be a major force in Qatar.
Daniel Rey, Pundit Arena
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