And thus, 120 goalless minutes and four wayward penalties later, ended Brazil's Copa América campaign. In a bid to overcome my own temporary apathy, I will refrain from providing a straightforward match report and analysis on this occasion. Instead, I present 7 things we learnt from...
Brazil 0-0 Paraguay AET (0-2 on penalties)
(1) Football can be a cruel mistress.
Brazil's performance (in normal time at least) was easily their best of the tournament; chances came thick and fast, Paraguay were second best all over the pitch, and Júlio César barely had a save to make. True, the seleção still didn't produce the kind of flowing football that fans have been clamouring for, but this was still a dominant display, possibly their best since the victory over the USA in Menezes' first game in charge. They were rewarded only with utter despair.
(2) Robinho and Ramires have plenty to contribute.
Despite being a fixture in Brazil's post-World Cup side, Ramires has never managed to convince SKP of his value. A jack of all trades, his hard running and frequently-clumsy passing have provoked the ire of those who think the seleção would be best served by a deep-lying playmaker (cough cough... Hernanes... cough) alongside Lucas Leiva in the midfield engine room. Ramires' performance against Paraguay, however, forced me to reconsider (if not yet abandon) that conviction; his energy and propulsion unsettled Paraguay, and he contributed well to a number of attacks late in the game. Bravo, rapaz. Robinho also provided a timely example of his undoubted quality. The Milan forward had an excellent game; helping Ganso with creative duties, dribbling to good effect, and even putting in the odd crunching tackle (!). It was a shame that his efforts would prove to be in vain.
(3) Football should never (ever) be played on a ploughed field.
Remember that, La Plata groundsmen.
(4) Patience is needed with Neymar and Paulo Henrique Ganso.
The Santos pair entered the Copa América as headline acts, tipped by all and sundry to light up the tournament. In truth, they have done so only in brief flashes, otherwise failing to stamp their authority on matches. Against Paraguay, Ganso wondered aimlessly during the opening period, whilst an increasingly ineffective Neymar was withdrawn in the second; poor performances in Brazil's hour of need. Before the two youngsters are written off, however, some perspective is needed; this was their first major tournament, one which they entered with just seven senior caps between them. The Copa may have constituted a false dawn for the youngsters, but their future remains bright.
(5) Nelson Haedo Valdez is a great human being.
It isn't the unkempt hair. It isn't the tireless running. It isn't the goofy grin. It isn't even the brotherly spirit that saw him stop to inquire about the state of the cameraman (and camera) he went crashing into during the match. It's something... intangible. I just want to be his friend. And to get drunk with him at weekends.
(6) Centrebacks should be last in the queue to take penalty kicks.
Actually, maybe that's too strong. Siniša Mihajlović was a centreback, after all. Let me make an amendment...
(6a) Injured centrebacks should be last in the queue to take penalty kicks.
Now there's something we can all agree on. Sorry, Thiago Silva, but you shouldn't have been anywhere near that spot.
(7) Any road back to o jogo bonito will be a long and hard one.
When he took over last year, Mano Menezes was heralded by some (including, to some extent, himself) as the man to restore the Brazil side to its former mercurial glory. His faith in youth and his preference for an attacking 4-2-1-3 provided strong early pointers that he was going in the right direction. Brazil's performances in the Copa, however, have demonstrated that a return to the golden days (1970? 1982? Even 2002?) is still far from being realised. Stodgy in midfield, and reliant on discreet moments of penetration (rather than consistent build-up) in attack, Menezes' side has rather more in common with Dunga's World Cup team than it does with the standout iterations in the Brazilian pantheon. Again, patience is necessary. The question, however, is whether Menezes is the right man to be patient with. For now, it appears that the CBF will keep faith with the 49-year-old. If and when the situation is reassessed, however, Brazil's disappointing Copa América campaign will certainly count against him.
(Photo credits; (1) Ricardo Nogueira, (2) Leo la Valle.)