Ylenia Lemos - in Italy
It’s quarter-finals time and Brazil face their hardest match yet in the tournament.
While France and Italy, the finalists of the last World Cup, were shamefully eliminated earlier on, the South Americans remain one of the favourite teams to win a World Cup competition that has been characterised by noisy vuvuzelas, some big referees mistakes and the greater exposure of Africa through its world cup host country.
The football World Cup is almost sacred for the Brazilians who have won the trophy more than any other team. An hour before, during, and an hour after Brazil’s games in the competition, every business in the country closes and everyone stops to watch “A Seleção” (The Selection).
It’s another reason not only to reunite and rejoice nationally but to market its invaluable hall mark internationally. More so though with the fact that the country will be hosting the 2014 World Cup. It is a great chance for Brazil to show the world the extent to which it has excelled globally beyond the pitch, not to forget the country’s successful bid to stage the 2016 Olympic Games too.
Brazilian coach Carlos Verri, known as Dunga, is a tough guy. When he got the job, the general belief was that he would serve as an interim manager covering a gap until a more permanent coach would be ready in due time for 2014 World Cup.
This perhaps explains his grumpy attitude towards a Brazilian press that always seems ready to usher in his dismissal.
Recently, he literally chased away a reporter from the powerful Globo media giant who had lobbied directly with the president of the Brazilian Soccer Federation to get exclusive access and interviews with Dunga’s squad whom he limits strictly to press conferences.
Dunga has never given much credit to the court of press or public opinion. However he has slowly come to conquer the latter with a track record of impressive results. Of the 59 matches played by Brazil under his control, his team has lost only four (seven per cent), which statistically puts him as the best coach the “Seleção” has ever. Interestingly, seven per cent is the same figure for his defeats of the 99 games he participated in as player.
According to the Brazilian media, the Netherlands are said to be Brazil’s “European mirror”. Although they come from different “schools,” both teams have a lot in common. They value similar collective game style and are both currently leveraging “pragmatism” over their “artistic” legacies though Brazil’s “art” is given more recognition for its individuality whereas the Dutch “art” rates more for its collectiveness.
The teams approximately tie in many of the World Cup statistics as number of goals scored and suffered, successful and unsuccessful passes, crosses, fouls, etc. But even below their usual “show” level on the field, Brazil is the one that most shoots to goal and is runner-up in number of dribbles. In fact Brazilian newspapers concede that Dunga has a “well connected” squad: the numbers show that Brazil’s yellows get 83.41 per cent of their passes right, closely followed by the Netherlands oranges with 78.69 per cent.
The Netherlands’s tactical organisation, competent defence, and their technical players worry Dunga, who has praised the Dutch as the European team with most similar qualities to the South-American teams.
Brazil’s defenders Maicon, Juan, Lucio, Dani Alves, and midfielder Gilberto Silva stand out in the team of the five time World Cup champions.
Strikers Robinho and Luis Fabiano are replacing the previously known starters Ronaldo and Ronaldinho. Brazil’s style is rough but precise, tactical, and disciplined in this World Cup, with fast counter-attacks. Even the great Pelé criticised Dunga’s team saying that they play too much in counter-attack without actually necessarily dominating the game. Pelé named Germany and Spain as favourites to win this month.
Brazil’s star midfielder Kaká himself said that the Netherlands has a technically rich team, individually and collectively. He said: “They play and they let you play. It is the game that everyone wants to see and all players want to play in.”
European papers praised the “samba soccer” revived after Brazil’s last match with Chile. Here in Italy, the Corriere dello Sport for example, congratulated Brazil’s “show”. Its rival publication the Gazzetta dello Sport emphasised the “lesson” that Brazil gave Chile in their 3-0 victory over their fellow South Americans.
Indeed, after the sad display of their national team, many Italians here are supporting the Seleção. A few Brazilian flags have replaced the Italian ones on balconies and people anxiously await the quarter-final games.
Antonio Giudice, a young movie director in Rome, said: “I trust the Brazilian team. I like the way they play football. One thing that particularly hit me this year is the way the team Europeanised itself. It has a stronger, well-established defence. The Dutch team is great but with its talents, Brazil can make the final.”
Manlio Castagna, deputy director of the Giffoni Film Festival in Giffoni, said: “We like Brazil in Italy because they express football’s fundamental spirit - pure fun and creativity on the field. This was greatly lost here in Italy, due to the pressure to score, the scheme and the tactics. Brazil shows us the real game.”
Italians are quite happy with the Dutch team too. After all, they are the ones who eliminated the team that kicked Italy out of the Cup, with their 2-1 victory over Slovakia. Gianvincenzo Nastasi, an artistic manager from Salerno, said: “The Netherlands is my favourite team in the tournament. Although, compared to the sadness the Italian team brought us, Brazil represents the fun in football.
However, I think they still have to show us their real game in this World Cup. The team still didn’t take off, it’s too European; they have to play the Brazilian way and entertain us.”
Brazil play the Netherlands at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth today. Whoever wins, will face the winner of the Uruguay v. Ghana match, held on the same day, in Johannesburg.