For the second time in two years, mighty Brazil crashed out of a major tournament earlier than expected. However, this time, it was attack, not defense, that was the Seleccao’s main problem.
For the second time in two years, Brazil was without its best player, Neymar, when it needed him most. However, this time, it was indiscipline, not injury, that kept him out.
And for the second straight Copa America, Brazil bowed out at the hand of Paraguay, in the quarterfinals, on penalties.
"It's not an excuse, but 15 of our players suffered from a virus this week. We had to limit some training sessions," Brazil coach Dunga complained in his post-match press conference. "Players suffered from a lot of headaches, back pain and illness - some felt it more than others. We had to reduce the intensity of training to try and help them recover. Some of them were vomiting.” He then added: "Today we had an important match that needed speed and we lacked that in the end.
Interesting, so was the lack of speed because of the virus, the absence of Neymar, or your general player selection?
Dunga didn’t answer that question, but he offered more excuses: "We lost five players for this year's tournament [to injury or suspension], and that makes it harder.”
Yes, but aren’t soccer players one of Brazil’s most noteworthy exports? Surely you have a litany of strong understudies for just such an occasion?
Of course, Off The Post didn’t attend Dunga’s press conference, so he didn’t get to ask these questions, but he imagines that it was at this point that the former World Cup winner got tired of counting the many ways in which things could have gone differently in order to say, simply:
"We have to rethink Brazilian football, not only on the field. We have to recognize that other nations have improved, and we must be humble and understand that it's time to get to work. We know we have a lot of work ahead of us."
Indeed, Brazil has an awful lot of work ahead of it in order to return to the top of the soccer world. Everyone from the players in the team, to the Brazilian soccer federation (CBF) to captain Neymar and the coach, have some soul-searching and/or character-building to do before this team can rise to the top.
Luckily, many of the Seleccao’s important players -- Neymar, Luiz Gustavo, Danilo, Willian, Oscar, Douglas Costa -- will be nearing the peak of their careers when the 2018 World Cup rolls around, so Brazil may be back, but this team absolutely must find a worthy No. 9 if it wants to realistically mount a challenge in Russia. Brazil’s over-reliance on Neymar has been all-too-apparent during both the World Cup and this year’s Copa America. Presuming he stays on, Dunga must demonstrate that he has a Plan B.
Some pundits already think it’s already time for him to go, but it would be unfair not to give at least some credit to Dunga for fixing Brazil’s defense following the calamity of last summer. However, as Colombia showed, if you place the bulk of your attacking ideas at the feet of one (brilliant) player, neutralize that player and you neutralize Brazil.
And if that player doesn’t outgrow his impetuousness -- and soon -- then you’ve got the persistent problem of history potentially repeating itself. Unlike, say, Lionel Messi, Neymar has shown at both Barcelona and Brazil that he likes to provoke, which simply means he can be provoked in turn. A captain should never engage in any behavior that can get him sent off (let alone thrown out of a tournament), and someone (Dunga) needs to tell him that.
For shoring up Brazil’s defense, Dunga should be allowed to stay, but he has some big tasks ahead of him before Russia 2018. Among them: turn Neymar into a real captain, find a striker who’s at least as good as Luiz Fabiano was in 2010, and stop feeding the media with lame excuses about viruses and missing players, because those comments are sitters that just make everyone respect you less.