Scolari must take the blame and go

Scolari must take the blame and go
Brazil's coach Luiz Felipe Scolari reacts as his team plays against the Netherlands during their 2014 World Cup third-place playoff at the Brasilia national stadium in Brasilia

This time round, there was no outpouring of emotion. No public waterworks.

There were plenty of sighs though, especially following the first goal after just two minutes.

But, when Brazil conceded the second against the Netherlands and the subsequent third to lose the third-place play-off in Brasilia 0-3 on Saturday, sarcastic laughter greeted each of those goals.

At a cafe in the bohemian neighbourhood of Lapa, Rio de Janeiro, Brazilians watching the match were resigned to the fact that the Selecao were just plain awful.

One diner mocked each goal Brazil conceded with cheers of "Alemanha", the German team Brazilians have now adopted.

"It's so shameful, it becomes funny," said Aloysio Garcia, 30, a petroleum engineer who was watching the match with his girlfriend Thais Neto and friends. "They don't seem to play as a team."

He is only half right. Brazil, in the 1-7 thrashing by Germany in the semi-finals and the loss to the Dutch, have not played. Period.

The two results are the first time since 1940 that Brazil have lost two games in a row at home.

Perhaps there is truth to the suggestion that Neymar IS Brazil.

Perhaps the absence of the star, out since the semi-finals with a back injury, is so debilitating that his not being in the team is like kryptonite to Superman.

Brazil have been paralysed without the talismanic forward.

Against the Netherlands, they again showed they were suffering from the same malaise that plagued them in the Germany match: poor positional sense, lack of defensive discipline and overall lacking drive and cohesion.

Even the return of captain Thiago Silva from suspension failed to right the wrongs from the Germany game.

He was at fault for the opening goal, allowing Arjen Robben to run past him and then hauling the Dutch ace down to concede a foul for which he was fortunate to remain on the pitch.

Robin van Persie converted the resulting penalty.

Barely nine minutes later, his defensive partner David Luiz's poor defensive header left Daley Blind the simple task of volleying home. Georginio Wijnaldum completed the rout in stoppage time.

Brazilian midfielder Oscar was at a loss for words following a second horror show. "What can you say. We came here hoping to win third place but we didn't, it wasn't our day," he said. "We lost, there's nothing to say."

Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, whose future is in question after the two losses, said his players should not be criticised and called for them to be supported ahead of the next World Cup.

He said: "Losing 7-1 (to Germany) we have already spoken about this many times. It was the worst in history - I know that - but we have to see the positive things.

"This generation is also going to be seen as the generation that started preparations for 2018 as one of the top four teams in the world."

Yet, it is hard to see the 65-year-old playing a part in the Selecao's immediate future, let alone the 2018 campaign.

His handling of the Neymar injury and the last two games has been appalling and suggests that he was unable to control an emotional group of young players who had been criticised for letting their hearts get the better of them. They cried during the national anthem, shed tears after the second-round penalty shootout win against Chile and appeared obsessed over the injury of a team-mate.

It made sense to use Neymar's absence as a means to motivate them. But, when the players started wearing caps bearing Neymar's name and carried his jersey when the national anthem was being sung ahead of the Germany match, they made the individual bigger than the team.

That Neymar will be out for only six weeks made the treatment they gave his absence even more ludicrous. It was as if he had died. On Saturday, Scolari's attempted team talk following an injury to the Netherlands' Dirk Kuyt gave a hint of how he may just have lost it.

As the Brazil players came to the touchline to replenish lost fluids, it was substitutes Neymar (why was he even suited up?), Hulk and Marcelo whom the players were seen taking instructions from. Scolari merely stood in the background, his words seemingly falling on deaf ears. It is hard to see any top coach letting the lines of authority be blurred like that.

Before the tournament, Scolari's ability to instill camaraderie in the team and be a father figure was hailed as his biggest asset. Yet, when the time came for him to rein his players in and get them to focus on the goal of winning the World Cup, he failed.

Two defeats will not spell the end of Brazilian football. Brazil is too proud a footballing country, too rich in talent to just fade away. It is still the No. 1 exporter of footballing talent.

But the farce of Brazil 2014 does throw up some questions: Is a revamp of the struggling domestic game needed? Is enough being done to school young Brazilian players in the tactical aspects of the game?

As far as the World Cup squad of 2014 are concerned, it has become painfully obvious that they were never really as good as they were made out to be, never true contenders for the title.

Perhaps why less tears were shed on Saturday is because of the realisation that this team had reached their potential - fourth was as good as they would ever get.

marclim@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on July 14, 2014.
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