Sport Soccer

Thursday 19 April 2018

Brazil retains old aura despite lack of quality


Ireland prepare for their summer preparations at the Emirates on Tuesday night while Brazil are getting ready for the real thing, even if they may no longer be the real thing themselves.

The allure of the Brazilian team is something that every football fan understands. It is a beckoning force that will be even more seductive in London this week thanks to the presence of so many Brazilian supporters.

But the atmosphere may be more compelling than the football. Of course there will be Kaka, the exciting right-back Maicon and even Elano but Brazil are no longer the team they are always expected to be.

The last World Cup demonstrated that they are just an ordinary international side in an international game that has no extraordinary sides. They go to the World Cup as second favourites behind Spain and that highlights a lack of outstanding teams in the competition as well, perhaps, as Diego Maradona's presence as coach of Argentina. Brazil tore Argentina apart in the qualifying campaign although the first match in Brazil was scoreless, suggesting that when they meet teams that are not prepared to attack -- as Argentina were -- then they do not have the players to break them down.

That 0-0 with Argentina was part of a sequence of scoreless draws at home that saw Brazilian supporters calling for Dunga's sacking. They have been bred on expectation and Dunga somehow has to deal with it.

Ultimately, Brazil topped their qualifying group, going 11 matches unbeaten after a defeat in Paraguay, but that is only the beginning. Dunga has been reshaping the team, discarding Ronaldinho who had hoped to be recalled for the Ireland game but was left out again.

Failure in 2006 forced Brazil to think again. They had played with some menace in 2002 as they won the competition, even if they were helped by an easy draw.

At that point, Brazil had everything. They had shown glimpses of their traditional style and married it to the industry required. They were the most famous brand in football and that would be exploited.

In 2006, they sold tickets for their training sessions, something the FAI could consider as part of block-booking for the next qualifying campaign. They won't be doing that again, with Dunga more concerned with creating a team spirit than celebrity.

In some ways, he has no option, not when Lucas is part of the squad.

The Liverpool midfielder may be unfairly criticised at times, but he reminds nobody of a traditional Brazilian midfielder. Also in the squad this week is the former Spurs player Gilberto. During his time at Tottenham one newspaper asked "Is Gilberto Tottenham's worst-ever player?" which seems a little harsh. Where would you begin?

Yet Gilberto is back in the squad for the game against Ireland, having supposedly revitalised his career at Cruzeiro. The squad is full of familiar players but Kaka is the one who makes things happen while others are demonstrating their industry.

Ronaldinho remains exiled and that will be the sub-plot as Brazil approach the tournament in which their expectation is the same as it has always been. They will be expected to win and maybe only Spain can stop them. But they are no longer the Brazil everybody wants them to be.

Brazil v Rep of Ireland,

Tuesday, ITV/RTE2 8.05

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