My World Cup: Bravo Netherlands, No tears for Brazil

Twenty-eight years ago, they were crying in the streets of Barcelona,  Brazilian fans tearfully acknowledging their team’s exit from the tournament, knocked out by Italy. I was there, in Barcelona -- not weeping, but I certainly felt the sadness. It felt as though the sunshine had gone from the tournament. We were left with a banal final between Italy and Germany -- because the team that played the real soccer had failed.

I doubt whether there will be many tears today, certainly not from the neutrals. Brazil is out, courtesy of the excellent Dutch. But the sad truth is that we shall not miss Brazil. This was not the joyous, goal-scoring, spirit-lifting Brazil of 1982. This was the new pragmatic, effective Brazil of coach Dunga.

Everything that Tele Santana’s 1982 Brazil stood for has been abandoned -- worse, it has been trashed. Dunga himself, while still a player back in 1990, announced a new Brazil, the Brazil of sweat and toil -- “No more jogo bonito” was his war cry.

That approach failed in 1990. It was a Europeanized approach, marking the reality that -- from that time onwards -- virtually all of Brazil’s top players would be playing their club soccer with European clubs.

Faithful to his perception of the game, Dunga the coach has repeatedly made it clear that he has no time for “pretty” soccer, that winning is all that matters. And those who live by the sword of winning deserve to die by it when they fail.

Brazil failed today because it wasn’t Brazil. Who were these guys in blue? -- significantly, not wearing the magical yellow that has meant so much to the game in the past. This was a Brazil that, following the Dunga method, had jettisoned its traditional attacking values. A quick flashback to the baking Barcelona sunshine calls up Brazil sweeping forward, always sweeping forward, flowing forward, majestically, with thrilling passing movements, moments of dribbling magic and exceptional skill. And another thing: one doesn’t so much remember this as feel it -- surely there were smiles on the faces of the Brazilians as they wove their soccer spells?  Smiling, sunshine soccer.

That has been banished by Dunga -- not killed off, but relegated to the occasional short flash. But one flash doth not a Brazil make. Brazil, to be Brazil, needs to play with style and brio ... all the time.

But the Brazil that is going home early, the Dunga whom one trusts will quickly fall on his sword, found another way. A non-Brazilian way, a much more European way, of putting defense first. That, we were told by Dunga, was modern soccer -- if you didn’t do that. You stood no chance of success.

It meant, of course, the end of the skill-punctuated flowing beauty of the Brazilian game. A stylistic change as big as that inevitably entails changes in the type of players on the field. This team had no place for the fantasista Ronaldinho. Instead, it had plenty of workmanlike midfielders . . . and it was precisely one of those, the unfortunate Felipe Melo, who let his team down so badly against the Dutch.

Kaka, wearing the hallowed #10 shirt, was evidently expected to single-handedly turn Brazil into Brazil whenever the occasion demanded. As things started to slip away from the Brazilians in the second half, as the Dutch gained confidence, this was the time for Kaka to step up. But he has not been in good form -- and anyway, a player of his skills -- essentially Brazilian skills -- needs similarly Brazilian-skilled players around him. Dunga had surrounded him with too many Euro-skilled players. Luis Fabiano was no help at all, shackled by the Dutch defenders. Only the free-lancing Robinho ever looked like galvanizing Brazil into the attacking force of old.

But that was never really on. To play like the traditional Brazil, you have to deeply believe in the attacking game, in the game of skill and risk-taking. Dunga’s mindset is quite the opposite. He preferred to do it the way the Europeans do -- with defensive tactical cleverness, and a minimum of goal-scoring.

Dunga will go -- but will his “effective soccer” philosophy depart with him? It should do, because it has proved a calamitous failure. Brazil did not have a difficult path to the quarter-final - there is nothing at all to prove that Brazil would not have reached that stage anyway by playing a more Brazilian, attacking game.

Dunga’s failure came when he ran into a European team with plenty of skill that was willing to take more risks than Brazil. Yes, this was to some extent forced on them by the early Robinho goal, but the Dutch have always been a team with attacking ideas, if not attacking flair. Today, they took the risks, and they got a deserved victory.

Perhaps the saddest experience was to watch Brazil during the last 10 minutes or so, trying with futile desperation, to do what has always been second-nature to Brazil’s players: to hold the ball, to string together passes, to penetrate an opposing defense. It didn’t work because Dunga has performed some sort of skillectomy surgery on this team.

The question for Brazil -- and for the world game -- is can Brazil get back to being Brazil? Given the way that the modern game is now played, is that possible? Should Brazil even try to play in its old style?  If the decision goes against those arguments -- and it may do, for typically Dunga-like pragmatic reasons -- so much the worse for the world’s game.

12 comments about "My World Cup: Bravo Netherlands, No tears for Brazil".
  1. Will Lozier, July 2, 2010 at 3:36 p.m.

    18 years ago? Did you mean 28?

  2. Mark Edge, July 2, 2010 at 3:51 p.m.

    "He preferred to do it the way the Europeans do -- with defensive tactical cleverness, and a minimum of goal-scoring."
    "Dunga’s failure came when he ran into a European team with plenty of skill that was willing to take more risks than Brazil."
    Now the old cumudgen is contradicting himself within the space on one paragraph.
    So is European football good or bad?
    I think it's time for him to pick another sport, he clearly has lost the plot in this one.

  3. Miguel Estremera, July 2, 2010 at 6:10 p.m.

    Ha!! Don't mind the haters Paul, they're just mad because they couldn't prove you wrong.
    Mas sabe el diablo por ser viejo que por diablo!!

  4. Shawn Farrell, July 2, 2010 at 6:37 p.m.

    Anyone else tired of hearing/reading about the death of jogo bonito? Seriously people, it is getting old. I get it, you want the attacking carefree Brazil, the Brazil that wasn’t ever going to win another world cup, but would be exciting and clueless as it lost another game against an inferior opponent because it decided to put 10 strikers on the field. Gardner, you talk of a time in 1970 when all was right in the southern hemisphere. What you are really talking about is a time when Brazil so far outclassed their opponents in technical ability it didn’t matter what they did, they would be superior. The fact is, better tactical awareness, better technique and better athletes are playing this sport all over the world. I am so tired of the desire to regress. Brazil didn’t lose today because they failed to play “jogo bonito”. Brazil lost this game because they are so damn good they haven’t had the opportunity to face enough adversity and when they finally did, they didn’t know how to handle it. This is the real old story. How many times have we seen it in sport when the underdog, although the Dutch aren’t really an underdog, hit the favorite in the mouth and the favorite , tasting his own blood for the first time doesn’t know how to handle it. Gardner, go watch your vhs tapes of black and white games from 1970 when goalies wore gardening gloves, no one wore shin guards and the posts were made of wood and let us know how much Brazil hasn’t progressed….

  5. Mark Landefeld, July 2, 2010 at 9:16 p.m.

    As with many teams, Brazil became an extension of their coach. They felt entitled to chippy challenges, were more proud of their defending than attacking and lacked the fortitude to get enough support for their attack.

    Dunga is gone, knowing that there is no way Brazil could play host in four years with his mentality leading the yellow and green.

  6. David Mont, July 2, 2010 at 9:21 p.m.

    I must've been watching a different game today. What I saw was a very poor match, both teams unable to create anything offensively. A more just outcome would've been a loss for both Brazil and the Netherlands. It's rather ironic that much better Dutch teams in 1994 and 1998 couldn't get past Brazil, but this one did.

  7. Bertrand Hamilton, July 2, 2010 at 9:50 p.m.

    Fire Dunga, unleash true Brazilian Soccer! I would not pay money to see this Brazilian team, I rather suffer through a losing Arsenal season.

  8. James Madison, July 2, 2010 at 10:13 p.m.

    What game were you watching, Paul? The Brazil of the first 20 minutes certainly was the Brazil you complained of Dunga destroying. However, the Dutch stiffened, and, when they scored, Brazil cracked---psychologically. They weren't accustomed to playing strong opponents, and they couldn't deal with the pressure of it.

  9. Edgar Soudek, July 3, 2010 at 3:54 a.m.

    Of all Paul Gardner's sermons his latest was easily his most stupid...
    If he can name ONE country that sits still on the playing field, watching in trance while Brazil plays "o jogo bonito", let Paulie-Boy name that country...No team anywhere in the world lets Brazil play the way it played 20, or 30 years ago, just about the time when Gardner entered his dream World...

  10. predrag borna, July 3, 2010 at 6 a.m.

    You all have Internet.Go to You Tube and compare.ANY old documentary of ANY team sport in the past with present time.You can see just A LOT OF JUNK...Some very retired home like people who jump a little and run very slow.No contacts no pushing they play for fun after work...In such environment was easy to play that stupid jogo bonito.No player ever hit the ground,no dirty gears...You know .. very feminine.If you want to see ballet go to theater.

  11. Dave Kaufmann, July 3, 2010 at 7:37 a.m.

    Bom Dia
    Bloody noses & all listen! Listen!
    The rythmn in their blood is SAMBA NOT Euro-conserative classic.
    MOST native Brasileros HAVE IT.
    NOW the new Samba manager will have the
    understanding of the "modern ?" Juego & deal with it, the CREATIVE Sambalito way.

    Dave K
    Samba Soccer

  12. Richard Busic, July 5, 2010 at 11:19 a.m.

    From my obsevations I believe that the teams with the best programs win. National programs start at the national level and permeate the whole Football culture of that nation. This is needed to have the players ready to play in the system, within the style of the nation. We see this with the Nederlands and Germans.
    To change the style of play on a comparative whim will not work well most of the time. A national team must play a style that they have the talent& culture to play. A consistant national phylosophy pays off. Changing on a dime does not.
    We as Americans need to establish our national style and then the players will develope in this style. This will be the hardest thing for us to do. We will argue about the most effective method, how do you do this with an evolving landscape of different successes worldwide. We will suffer with the stresses of compromise. Who will make the decision? We as a country have not agreed to anything in history except the need to win WW2.
    Right now I like the German strategy, if you have the players for it.

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