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Brazil 3 Croatia 1. No Beautiful Game from this Brazil team
by Paul Gardner, June 12th, 2014 10:52PM

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TAGS:  world cup 2014

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By Paul Gardner

Not, by any means, an uneventful game. Not short of action, suspense, tension. So plenty to get excited or emotional about. And that’s not bad for the opening game of a World Cup. There have been some real stinkers.

Nevertheless, this game was a disappointment. Because it was Brazil, and because the quality of Brazil’s soccer left a lot to be desired.

With Brazil, we’ve come to expect something special. With Brazil, playing at home, with all the color and the drama and the tumult of its own fans yelling support, we almost have a right to demand something superior.

We didn’t get it. Within seconds of the start, Croatia was attacking and Brazil’s defenders seemed content to lump the ball any old where. This is Brazil?

So wait for them to settle down, wait for the game, their game, the Brazilian game, to start to flow . The smooth control, the slick passing -- both slick and quick -- the trickery, the wizardry, the magic. We waited. And waited. And we’re still waiting. It didn’t happen. For brief moments her and there, yes. But as a style, as an underlying force giving the game a character, jogo bonito ,the beautiful game was nowhere to be found.

That should not be a surprise. We’ve been watching Brazil lose its way for some years now. The falling off has been there for all to see -- and it is not Brazil’s fault. Faced with European dominance of the sport -thanks to money, certainly not to superior soccer skills -- the Brazilians have Europeanized. How not to, considering that all their best players now play for European teams?

The fantasy that marked the classic Brazilian teams does not breathe easily in Europe. It gets suffocated by the realpolitik of European tactics --defensive, physical, and clever -- oh yes, they’re clever all right. Clever enough to want Brazilian and other South American players, then pragmatic enough to make sure that fantasy takes a backseat to the sterner demands of discipline and work-rate.

The modern Brazil that has come from these developments is an unsatisfactory hybrid of artistry and industry, unable to totally abandon the zest of its natural game, unable to totally embrace the unsmiling practicalities of the Europeans. We -- meaning I -- had hoped that back home (where so few of the Brazilian players now live) the true Brazilian soccer spirit would blossom again. It doesn’t look like it.

Not -- and this is the most disappointing thing -- because the players choose to play a more no-frills, practical game, but because the players -- these players we watched yesterday, most of them -- did not look to have the necessary skills to play jogo bonito.

A fundamental requirement of jogo bonito has always been superb ball control, the ability to tame the ball instantly however it arrives, at whatever angle or speed, without any apparent effort. That is the platform on which the marvelous individual skills and the rapid movement of the ball from player to player thrive. With it -- where you have players who need more than one touch to trap a ball, who are vulnerable to tackles because they show too much of the ball, who cannot pass accurately and swiftly -- you do not, cannot, have jogo bonito.

I have never seen a Brazil team as sloppy in its passing as the one I watched yesterday. Repeatedly, the ball was clumsily controlled, poorly passed, and -- most disturbing of all -- was simply given away to Croatia.

A word about Croatia: Not a great team, for sure, but made to look a lot better than it is by a Brazil team that allowed them to see plenty of the ball. And a Brazil team that was frankly a shambles, defensively. And, alas for Croatia, they didn’t get any breaks from Yuichi Nishimura, the Japanese referee. The penalty decision, in particular, was bad, giving Brazil a goal it scarcely deserved.

Jogo not-so-neat-o, for sure. Can the Brazilians win the World Cup playing like this? Probably they can -- provided they pour on the pressure, provided the fans demand incessant offense. The risks of defensive screw-ups will have to be balanced to a large extent by spending as much time as possible threatening down the other end of the field.

Time to relieve the gloom a little. Neymar had one or two moments of pure wonderment, but not enough. For me Oscar was Brazil’s best player, someone who really looked like a jogo bonito player. But that’s the thing. Jogo bonito is not a one-player happening. It needs a group. And Oscar rarely got any help from anyone. Did he and Neymar, his most likely partner, combine even once for anything significant? Neymar’s goal was a solo effort. So was Oscar’s.

I shall not expect anything classically Brazilian from this Brazilian team. Perhaps the best we shall get will be the excitement of a team indulging in all-out attack, as though its very life depends on it. And it might.


16 comments
  1. Gonzalo Munevar
    commented on: June 13, 2014 at 12:07 a.m.
    Sadly true. A friend and I said similar things during and after the game, although probably not as well.

  1. Ron Beilstein
    commented on: June 13, 2014 at 1:44 a.m.
    Wasn't there another Brazilian in a recent WC who feigned getting struck in the face by the ball to have an opponent cautioned/sent-off? Is that the new jogo bonito? Where's the outrage? If FIFA doesn't penalize Fred, their integrity is gone.

  1. Thomas Brannan
    commented on: June 13, 2014 at 2:24 a.m.
    Irrelevant to this article, but just thinking. I wonder if the starting 11 for the USA will all know the words to the USA NATIONAL ANTHEM like the Brazilians did. It would be nice wouldn't it.

  1. Joseph Stewart
    commented on: June 13, 2014 at 8:19 a.m.
    Yup, that heel pass between the Brazilians was emblematic - they were not communicating so the ball went over the touch line. And yes, the PK was warranted though the caution seemed a bit much to me - if you're a defender pulling an attacker down in the box you're gonna' pay a price. That was just stupid. Now time to look forward to Spain / Netherlands!

  1. David Mozeshtam
    commented on: June 13, 2014 at 8:34 a.m.
    I grew up in the late 60's/early 70's with stories about beautiful football played by Brazil. The first time I really saw Brazil was in 1973, during their tour of Europe. I was very disappointed by what I saw. Ever since, not once have I really been impressed by Brazil the way, on multiple occasions, I've been impressed over the last 40 years by Holland, Germany, Spain, France, Poland, Denmark. There have been obviously some good players and occasionally (mostly in the 80s) some good football played by Brazil, but those moments have been rare. Somehow I doubt that it's all the fault of European realpolitik. The Brazil of 1974 was as physical, defensive-minded, unimaginative as any team I've ever seen.

  1. Kent James
    commented on: June 13, 2014 at 9:11 a.m.
    Joseph, while pulling down an attacker in the box should be a PK, Fred was not pulled down (the defender did put a hand on him, but briefly and clearly without force). Fred took a dive. And given Paul Gardner's usual mockery of the idea that forwards ever dive, I'm disappointed that he didn't have the backbone to admit that Fred gamed the ref, rather than simply calling it "a bad call". And blaming the Brazilians lack of flare on Europe is a bit much; certainly the Brazilian defense was often in disarray (many of Croatia's counters had legs because the Brazilians were so focused on attack and their backs were caught out of position), and the two most creative players, Neymar and Oscar, played in Europe, whereas Fred, who did nothing other than game the ref, plays in Brazil. This Brazilian team did not play that well, but there were flashes of brilliance and they did not have the defensive mindset that Dunga had instilled in previous versions of the selecao. I'd attribute the poor play not to a lack of quality on the side (or a "European" contagion), but to first game jitters due to the incredible pressure on the team. It will be interesting to see if they can play the relaxed jogo bonito for which they are known while under such pressure to win.

  1. Gus Keri
    commented on: June 13, 2014 at 9:11 a.m.
    I think you, all, should forget about "jogo Bonito" from Brazil in this world cup. Since the unfortunate elimination of the most exciting team to ever play in the world cup finals, Brazil 1982, Brazil took on a new path to winning the cup. In 1994 and 2002, they played "non-jogo bonito" and won the cups. For this cup, Brazil brought on the two coaches who were responsible for those two wins, Scolari (2002) and Perreira (1994) to help insure it wins this cup at home. So, If you are looking for jogo bonito, watch games that don't include Brazil.

  1. Gus Keri
    commented on: June 13, 2014 at 9:20 a.m.
    In regard to the PK, I blame the Croatian defender Lovren. When he put his hand on Fred shoulder, he gave the referee the impression that he is pulling him down. Fred dropped to the ground in theatrical fashion and gave the ref no option but to call the PK. Lovren can do these things when he joins Liverpool FC next season in the EPL, but he can't do it in the world cup opener against Brazil in Sao Paulo.

  1. Walt Pericciuoli
    commented on: June 13, 2014 at 9:22 a.m.
    Jogo Bonito is long gone, replaced by win baby win.I too am sad, but I think/hope we'll see something special this WC from the likes of Spain and Argentina.

  1. I w Nowozeniuk
    commented on: June 13, 2014 at 10:20 a.m.
    Gus, u blame the defender? He did what he had to do, and Fred dropped like a sack of potatoes and FIFA continues to refuse an across the board suspension rule for diving. In order for the ref to call a PK he has to be 100% sure, not go by 'impression'. Viewer expectations are too high for great games so early; both teams were not at their best, especially Brazil. May I suggest that the TV gurus put 24 cameras on the pitch so, we, the viewer can get simultaneous facials of 22 players and each coach on the screen. This bouncing around of video close ups is a testament to the shortsighted production planning which has been going on for years.

  1. Chris Renaldo
    commented on: June 13, 2014 at 11:38 a.m.
    Are you serious? You aren't even going to respect your readers enough to leave the scores out of the headings. Some of us work for a living, and are trying very hard to avoid finding out how the games ended up, until we get home late from work and watch the game at night. That is why the DVR is so popular! I understand that you need to "report" the news, but why can't you give us the chance to open the comment when we are ready - after we watch the game. I hope that I don't need to cancel my email accounts, just so I can enjoy the beautiful game.

  1. Jogo Bonito
    commented on: June 13, 2014 at 1:06 p.m.
    Barcelona did a pretty good job winning with what I'd consider Jogo Bonito. So I really don't think it's dead. Unfortunately, for many reasons, more people make decisions from fear and weakness rather than from strength. Brazil's coaches have become what I call "self-hating Brazilians" - they lack the strength, pride and nerve to be true to the traditional Brazilian style. I'd much rather see them honor the beautiful and win or lose playing like Brazil should be playing. I agree with PG that the Euro influence has not helped.

  1. ROBERT BOND
    commented on: June 13, 2014 at 2:16 p.m.
    call was bad, yellow card absurd insult added to injury.........& Croatia lacked Manzukich, their best offensive threat....may as well give Brasil the cup if the refs are all going to be like that...to remind the guy who said better conditioning by the Euros would not matter because of their "grueling schedules", Croats more active in the last 10", only player down with cramps wore blue&yellow....

  1. Gus Keri
    commented on: June 13, 2014 at 2:53 p.m.
    I w Nowozeniuk, hand on shoulder is not part of a defender's job and he puts himself at the mercy of the ref. I agree that the PK call was wrong and FIFA should punish divers but defenders should be smarter too.

  1. stewart hayes
    commented on: June 13, 2014 at 8:11 p.m.
    "never seen a Brazil team as sloppy in its passing as the one"... no argument there. They are undisciplined the poor passing is one example. Neymar's retaliation and yellow card another. This team has many weaknesses. I don't think they had a shot on goal for the first 30min of the second half until the penalty. The Croatian Lovren with closed hand on shoulder is poor defending because so much of the referee's first impression is formed by simple cues. The hand should be open and normally the defender will use the wrist or forearm to impeded the attacker. Fred collapsed he was not pushed down.

  1. Saverio Colantonio
    commented on: June 18, 2014 at 12:50 p.m.
    Lets blame it on the pedestrian names such as Jo, Fred, David Victor, Hulk. No flare in the names results with no flare on the field. In all seriousness,what we are seeing is the complete Europization (or should I say globalization) of Brazilian football. This is the downside of exporting football knowledge, we get a consistent product across the globe just like we do with any fast food franchise.


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