Sport World Cup

Monday 16 December 2019

Wyse On Sport: A defeat to shatter Brazil's illusions

Brazil's David Luiz and Luiz Gustavo try to take it all in after their heavy World Cup semi-final defeat to Germany. Photo: Felipe Dana - Pool/Getty Images
Brazil's David Luiz and Luiz Gustavo try to take it all in after their heavy World Cup semi-final defeat to Germany. Photo: Felipe Dana - Pool/Getty Images

Rachel Wyse

In our sporting universe, nothing is life or death. For most people, their passion is a distraction. Time spent serving the mind or body in a place far removed from the grind of daily life. It's important, but when the final whistle goes or the last race is run, sport is only a game.

But like every rule, there are exceptions, places that don't conform. Places where people are reared in a culture the rest can't relate to, where priorities are different.

These are lands and people defined by their teams. I think of New Zealand's All Blacks, I think of the importance of Gaelic football to Kerry people and I think of Brazilian soccer.

Great teams whose greatness at the height of their powers not only set standards for their peers, but left a mark by which those who were to come after would be measured. Their achievements haven't been diluted with the passing of years.

From advancements in sports science to rule changes, much has changed, but their greatness remains, constant and unquestioned. Such a feat is quite possibly the ultimate legacy.

And this reality makes the events of Tuesday night in the Estadio Mineirao so desperately sad.

HUMBLED

It was pitiful to witness a great footballing nation humbled in this manner. The situation seemed surreal. But sport has little capacity for sentiment and as the world observed a Brazilian team unravel in front of its own people, just as all those glorious triumphs that constitute their great heritage could never be forgotten, a 7-1 defeat in a World Cup semi-final will carry similar connotations.

That 90 minutes will define many of the players who donned the famous yellow jersey against Germany. Days will pass, memories will fade, but those players will never be allowed to forget their contribution to the national team.

The value placed by a country's people in the jersey dictates the aftermath could never be any other way.

Where the blame lies will be the subject of much debate. As the host country, the Brazilian nation expected nothing other than ultimate glory. And from the opening game against Croatia, there was scant evidence to suggest expectations were either credible or likely to be met.

Little expertise was needed to recognise this Brazilian team bore no relation to their fellow countrymen of past generations. Brazil were ordinary. Too many average players being managed by a man seemingly determined to betray a nation's football principles. There was to be no glory, no modern-day miracle, as their opponents strolled to a success which even the most ardent German fans hardly predicted. Each of the five German goals scored in the opening half was a dagger to the soul of a country that looked on in horror.

We knew Brazil's fate and the question we all wondered was, where would the devastation stop?

The answer was seven, but it could have been double figures had the Germans exerted themselves in the second 45 minutes. The final whistle marked the end of a Brazilian dream and I suspect the end of long-held assumptions about players emanating from once-great nations.

The illusion about Brazilian footballers is shattered. Reputations formed over decades were undermined in minutes. For the game, on a wider scale, the developments are regrettable. Events on Tuesday confirmed what many have suspected for some time – the beauty in football is getting increasingly more difficult to identify.

Players like Lionel Messi are an endangered species. Values in the game have shifted; emphasis now focuses upon power, athleticism and aerobic capabilities. Skill and flair are commodities of lesser importance. The definition of a 'talented' player has clearly changed. As coaches seek players to conform, individual brilliance would appear to belong to days of old and the evidence of this World Cup has done little to contradict such opinions. Aside from Messi and perhaps Arjen Robben, flair players have been marked absent.

And, I wonder, has this development contributed to the levelling of standards? Many commentators have remarked on how competitive the 'lesser' nations such as USA, Costa Rica, Algeria have been in this tournament. But perhaps international football is a far easier place in which to be competitive than it once was.

The change in emphasis and lack of creative players has resulted in the game becoming more about systems and athletes. Such facets of the game can be influenced by human input, they can be coached. The same can't be said of natural genius. The absence of such genius has given rise to a parity we haven't known before. And while the weaker nations are deemed to have improved, I wonder what does the improvement represent? Are they better footballers or are they better organised facing an inferior opposition without the spark of imagination that previously differentiated the superior teams? And I suspect the definite trend we have seen emerge in Brazil 2014 is here to stay. As fewer non-manufactured players grace the game at the highest level, it's plausible a day will come when the flair players will no longer be a consideration.

Football may well continue to entertain, just through a different medium.

We can only hope flickering lights like Messi continue to burn bright for a long time to come.

And while the future path of the world game may be uncertain, there is no uncertainty around the state of affairs in Brazil. The game is at a crossroads. Will we ever see a Brazilian national team entertain the adoring masses again? Such an eventuality is dependent on a lot of imponderables. Right now, the country's football heritage is a burden. But in time this will change, their heritage will be an invaluable asset, one which money could never buy.

And maybe just as Richie McCaw sought to emulate Sean Fitzpatrick and Colm Cooper took inspiration from Mikey Sheehy, a young Brazilian child will be inspired to replicate the feats of men who continue to transcend generations.

While that heritage exists, there is hope. Not just for Brazil, but for all those who cherish the way we knew football was once played.

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