Prior to Sunday night’s Confederations Cup final against World and European champions Spain at the Maracanã, Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari anticipated that victory for his team “would regain a lot of credibility and respect from our fans.”
It’s worth remembering, more so than ever in the afterglow of their astonishing 3-0 win, what state the Seleção were in as they approached the competition a month ago. Confidence wasn’t high. People around the world were sceptical about the team and its individual components.
The received wisdom was that this Brazil side wasn’t up to the high standards set by its predecessors. They had slipped to 22nd in the FIFA rankings, an imperfect and often derided metric, but an indicator nonetheless of how a country rates.
After their elimination in the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup by the Netherlands, Dunga was replaced as head coach with Mano Menezes. It was supposedly a move away from a counter-attacking, un-Brazilian style of play, in which the physical appeared to take the priority over the technical, to one that was closer to their traditions of flair, seizing the initiative and entertaining the crowd.
There was a transition from one generation to another too. The old guard was more or less done away with and a new breed brought through in order to prepare them for the 2014 World Cup. So Brazil went from one extreme to the other. Many of the players weren’t ready. For the most part, they were based at home and so lacked international experience. It would take time to make the adjustment.
In the meantime, Brazil looked like a soft touch. They lost some of their aura. Paraguay knocked them out in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Copa America on penalties. Mexico beat them in the final of 2012 Olympic football tournament.
If Menezes had been sacked there and then few would have been surprised. Ironically, his dismissal came a few months later just as Brazil had started to show signs of real progress under his management. Were they shooting themselves in the foot?
Read the rest of this entry »
A game that featured numerous clear cut chances for both sides ended with Spain winning 7-6 on penalties. Leonardo Bonucci, Italy’s seventh shooter skied his shot over the bar, giving Manchester City new boy Jesus Navas the chance to win it for Spain. He came through, as neither goalkeeper was able to actually stop a shot. Andrea Pirlo scored to make it 5-4 Italy. The great man was not moved by the occurrence.
Everybody forgets things. Jason Bourne forgot who he was in the Bourne films, but, like troopers, the cast and crew made it work. British Prime Minister David Cameron once left one of his kids at a pub he’d been at for the afternoon. Oops! I myself went through a similar experience, frantically retracing my steps back to the pub in question, half-naked, shouting at passers-by, before realizing that in fact I don’t have any kids and that I rarely go to pubs—an anti-climax to say the least. Spain, equally embarrassingly, appear to have forgotten to qualify for the next World Cup. Their faces will be so red!
Now, okay, Spain’s forgetfulness hasn’t been punished just yet; they play France in a match they really should think about winning if they’re going to avoid a tricky play-off to reach Brazil 2014. But that’s not the point: either way, for the current World and European Champions, even the idea that they might not qualify automatically for the next World Cup marks a break from an era of difficult-to-believe dominance: they would never have forgotten to qualify a few years ago. Their coach actually read out the stats about that dominance at his last press conference (there is no need to repeat them here: we know they’re good and I simply will not be the host for sycophantic fawning). They’ve been the best team in international football for the last six years, no question, and suddenly they can’t beat Finland and are two points behind France in their qualifying group. There’s been a change.
And this is brilliant news.
It’s brilliant news for a few reasons, ranging from the reasonable to the apparently not so. I’ll include both here but I won’t tell you which is which so as to keep you on your toes. This will be either fun or tedious, but again I won’t tell which so as to reinforce the on-the-toes mentality.
Read the rest of this entry »
This short video from Sid Lowe on FC Barcelona’s complex relationship with the growing Catalan independence movement is drawing kudos, and it’s very interesting to hear the tantalizingly fleeting opinions on the issue from major figures like former club president Joan Laporta and former player and coach Johan Cruyff.
Barca it seems has acted as a global magnifying glass on an issue of regional identity that other leaders of burgeoning, peaceful independence movements would love to have. Imagine for example if Quebec sovereigntists had managed to hoard the fiercely-loved (particularly by this author) Montreal Canadiens in the same way. Most involved in Catalonia’s drive to some sort of independent status within Spain however have striven to remain neutral on Barca’s specific symbolic role, which has led to some increasingly vague metaphors—”Barcelona provides the background music to independence, but not the words.”
But there are some interesting issues for Barca that go beyond the sticky questions of the very popular Spanish national team, stocked as it is with players from the Camp Nou. First, as the Barca/Real Madrid rivalry has gone global, so has the nascent and often not-very-well understood relationship between Catalonia and Francoist Spain. Barca fans from far flung locales wear Catalan flags over their replica kits, and incorrectly accuse Real Madrid supporters of backing a regime that ended in 1975. The last remaining statue from that era was removed in 2005.
This kind of thing could occur more often as the Catalan movement gather steam, particularly within the current economic situation in Spain. If the region does get its unlikely wish and manages to break away from Spain, Barca tourism will become an integral part of a regional economy. Along with that comes the inevitable question of national teams.
For now however, Barcelona will continue to navigate a tricky (a)political course…