Saturday 29 June 2019

Angels and demons: Alisson and Gabriel Jesus hold their nerve as Brazil grind out win over Paraguay

It’s happening again. Brazil vs Paraguay: at this stage, it’s essentially one long penalty shootout with occasional interruptions for football. And for the Seleção, the memories are about as happy as your average funeral. 

2011 was the nadir: four spot-kicks, zero goals, infinite doom. Elano’s shot recently completed its third lap of the solar system, say NASA; the rest were not a great deal better. Brazil at least managed to score a couple in 2015, but not as many as Paraguay. 

And now Roberto Firmino has just shanked his penalty miles wide, all of those old demons are banging on the door, giggling with lunatic glee. 

It’s happening again. Right?

Tuesday 25 June 2019

Let Brazil be Brazil? Teething troubles for the Seleção, but they should not forget how far they've come under Tite

The Copa América is not yet two weeks old. Brazil are unbeaten through three matches, with eight goals to their name and zero conceded.

With Japan or Paraguay to come next, and a mediocre Argentina side their likely opponents in the last four, it would be a major surprise were they not to reach the final. By most metrics, things are going well.

Yet muddled performances in their first two group games—a 3-0 win over Bolivia that was less convincing than it sounds, and a drab, goalless draw with Venezuela—prompted a familiar bout of hand-wringing over the side’s progress and underlying identity.

Read my latest piece on the Seleção – and, erm, The West Wing – over at The Athletic.

Sunday 23 June 2019

The Little Onion makes a big impact: How Everton has brought life and levity to Brazil's Copa América campaign

Everton was Brazil’s best player against Peru last night. He was arguably their best player against Venezuela on Tuesday, too, despite only coming on in the second half. He has two goals in the competition and a legion of new fans. But they don’t chant his actual name when he scores.

Instead, they chant, “É Cebolinha!” – “It’s Little Onion!”

This, obviously, is brilliant. A little research reveals that Everton does indeed look a lot like Cebolinha, a character in a much-loved kids’ TV show. Mainly it’s that little tuft of hair, perched on top of his head like it was retreating to higher ground. Maybe Everton also mixes his Rs and Ls up in speech to hilarious effect.

More pertinently, there is just a lovely cartoon levity to the way the 23-year-old plays football, all jerky bursts of life and laugh-out-loud punchlines. It is this quality that has, in double-quick time, made him the chief attacking catalyst for this work-in-progress Brazil side.

Read my piece on the man of the moment over at The Independent. 

Saturday 15 June 2019

Can Philippe Coutinho fill the Neymar void and inspire Brazil to glory at the Copa América?

Filling Neymar’s boots in the Brazil team is one of the great Sisyphean tasks in modern sport, up there with being Deontay Wilder’s sparring partner or doing PR for Team Sky. Boil the Seleção to a sticky liquor and it basically is Neymar, with all the wonders and warts that entails.

Ahead of the Copa América opener against Bolivia there had been a few rogue missives, whispered into the wind, to the effect that Brazil could even be better off without their quicksilver prince. This is plainly nonsense, at least from a pure sporting point of view: he is this country’s best footballer by a country mile.

Coutinho is an excellent player, but not on the same level. He hasn’t even been at his own level this season, with his struggles at Barcelona well documented. Nor does he offer anything like the same raw, gravitational star power that Neymar does; in fact, he is really best viewed as the anti-Neymar. If the Paris Saint-Germain forward is the very model of a modern major superstar, Coutinho is a quiet man squinting into the spotlight.

He is, however, one of Brazil's great hopes at this summer's Copa América, as I wrote in my opening-night piece from the Morumbi over at The Independent.