Saturday 3 July 2010

Mistakes and Melo-drama as Brazil Exit Copa

“We’d seen the trailer so many times, and today we got the film.” Globo pundit Caio Ribeiro’s take on Felipe Melo’s indiscipline was one of the more eloquent reactions to Brazil’s loss to Holland, which spelt the end of the World Cup for the seleção. Galvão Bueno, Brazil’s pre-eminent commentator, looked on the verge of tears, and Falcão lamented at length the thoroughly ‘un-Brazilian’ football displayed by the team throughout the tournament.

One emotion, however, was universal, among Brazilians on the street as well as the screen; shock. Forty-five minutes of madness had seen the seleção go from the brink of booking their place in the semi-finals to the shame of booking their plane tickets home; from heroes to zeroes.

Dani Alves lies prone after the final whistle.

In a first half of limited quality (the game took place on a pitch more suited to agriculture than football), it was Brazil who managed to refrain from fouling and diving long enough to score the opener. Felipe Melo’s glorious sweeping ball found Robinho, who dispatched a low first-time volley after drifted into space behind the sleeping John Heitinga. Further chances fell to Juan, who should have done better after good work by Daniel Alves; and Kaká, whose curling shot brought a fine save from Marten Stekelenberg in the Holland goal.

Brazil, despite not having excelled in the opening period, looked comfortable. Few could have predicted what was to occur in the second period. After 53 minutes, a rare defensive error gifted Holland an equaliser. After a (nominal) Michel Bastos foul on Arjen Robben, and a quick free-kick, Wesley Sneijder swung over a hopeful cross from the right. The whole Brazilian defence appeared to expect Júlio César to claim the high ball…except Felipe Melo, who evidently didn’t receive that particular memo. The two jumped together, and the ball flicked of Felipe Melo’s head into the net.

The seleção were visibly rattled, and quickly conceded a second. Robben’s corner was flicked on by Dirk Kuyt at the near post, and Sneijder was left free to head home from close range. Brazil suddenly had it all to do with thirty minutes to play. The task would have been difficult enough with eleven men, but then came Felipe Melo’s (second) moment of madness. After hacking Robben to the ground, the Juventus volante proceeded to stamp on the winger’s thigh, right under the nose of the referee. It was a bizarre incident; a moment of such sheer idiocy that it didn’t seem real. The commentary merely reinforced this illusion; rather than raising his voice, or sighing in frustration, Galvão calmly noted that “this was always a possibility.”

Felipe Melo sees red.

Brazil created nary a chance in the remaining minutes; indeed it was Holland who could (and really should) have bagged a third. The seleção attacked with desperation rather than inspiration; Gilberto Silva and Lúcio lumped long balls up to nobody in particular, Luís Fabiano went missing completely before being replaced by Nilmar, and Robinho barely touched the ball in the second period. It was Kaká who went closest, but after surging down the left his shot was blocked by Andre Ooijer. In truth, Brazil never looked like getting back into the game after Holland’s second.

The body was barely cold before the post-mortem had begun. The blame thus far has been spread fairly evenly between Felipe Melo and Dunga, although some have suggested that problems caused by the former are merely a manifestation of the latter’s errors; that Dunga ought to have noticed this particular disciplinary time bomb before it exploded in his and the nation’s face. Dunga also must be criticised for the lack of feasible game-changing options on his bench; how he must have wished to see Ronaldinho, Diego, Paulo Henrique Ganso, and Alexandre Pato on the bench next to him, rather than Júlio Baptista, Kléberson, Gilberto, and Grafite.

The strongest complaints, however, will be those of the type made by Falcão; that Brazil not only lost, but lost playing ugly football. The claim that Dunga’s seleção has only ever been based on physicality and functionality may be somewhat of an exaggeration, but many are in favour of shifting the team’s priorities back to the aesthetic. In a country whose (self) image is both reflected in and defined by the style of its football, there is a feeling that the uniqueness of the seleção has been lost in the past twenty years.

This process, of course, may be irreversible, given modern trends of commercialisation, professionalism, and increased physical preparation, but if one were to distil public opinion in Brazil this evening, I’m sure one would find a desire to bring back the intricate, flowing football of 1970 and 1982. Brazil’s dreams of becoming hexacampeão may be over for another four years, but today’s loss could turn out to be a positive juncture in its illustrious footballing history.

(Photo credits; (1) Laurence Griffiths/Getty, (2) Robert Ghement/GPA.)


  1. Interesting how you mentioned that the loss could turn out to be a positive juncture in the end. It can be easy to analyze the failure through an immediate perspective, while few people can see the bigger picture. I admit that I got really sad after the game, but I started to imagine the effect that a possible title would have on football worldwide and I eventually got back to normal. In the beggining of the World Cup, I told some friends that I would like to face Spain. Not only because it would be a hell of a match, but also because I would like to see Spain beating us with their sexy football. Then I hoped that CBF would get like 'We should be playing like this, damn it!' and changed it in time for 2014. Something like that. But seriously, I never really liked Dunga's "results come first" phylosophy, and even if we had won, there would still be that feeling of 'It could have been better'.

  2. Mario, thanks for your comment. I think it could definitely turn out to be a decisive moment. Many former players (Falcão, Tostão, among others) are calling for a seleção that does justice to the history and prestige of Brazilian football.

    My only worry is that this mission to go back to the style of old will bring an old coach back...Scolari and Parreira have been rumoured. I'd prefer an up and coming'd be a brave move to appoint someone like Leonardo, but it could be more productive.

  3. Oh, don't tell me about Falcão. We used to have him and Toninho Cerezo in our midfield ... compare that to Felipe Melo and Gilberto Silva. Sigh. I don't think we'll ever have a team that can play some sort of free-flowing beautiful without a player like him. We need a DM or CM who can dictate the plays and somehow control the rhytym of the match. That's why I want Hernanes to be called since the first friendly (check what I'm planning for the Seleção here:

    I don't understand why Felipão would want to coach the Seleção again, to be honest. He's beloved in Brasil for 2002, and his salary is huge. Taking the Seleção again would be a risk.

    Parreira? Please no. I would rather have Mano Menezes, maybe Leonardo.

    By the way, very nice blog. It's nice to see a foreign person talking so vividly about brazilian football.

  4. Thank-you very much! I'll have a look at that forum.