Unpicking Brazil’s World Cup exit

It all went a bit pear-shaped last night (Mowa Press)

Brazil threw the kitchen sink at Belgium, and then some more, and in my opinion they can be proud of their efforts last night. But what went wrong?

It is not often that a team takes 27 shots and ends up losing a match. And its not often that you have a team with players as good as Belgium’s clinging on like they did for 45 minutes. But it happened in Kazan last night and Belgium beat Brazil 2 – 1 in the World Cup quarter final. Brazil are out. And their wait for a sixth World Cup goes on.

But what should we make of last night’s loss? Rest assured, this will be talked about for years to come in Brazil. These are my thoughts on why Brazil lost – there are four reasons. The first, individual mistakes, seems to be getting most of the attention in the Brazilian media so far. And it’s true – Brazil made some big mistakes last night, in attack and in defence. And they were costly. How did Fernandinho get his header so wrong for that corner? Why did Gabriel Jesus jump so high, right in front of him, and miss the ball? And why didn’t Alisson make the save?

There were mistakes on Belgium’s second goal too. Collectively, why did Brazil’s players give Belgium, and Romelu Lukaku, so much space to run into? Paulinho and Fernandinho both had the chance to stop the move from developing, even if that meant taking a yellow card for the team. They should have. It didn’t help Brazil that Belgium scored first, which made it easier for them to play to their strength and hit Brazil on the counter attack with their power and pace.

But were Brazil a bit too desperate to equalise after going behind? You would have to say yes – they had plenty of time to get back into the match and didn’t need to throw caution into the wind at that stage and leave themselves so exposed. Tite could have got his team to manage that better, but I will get on to Tite in a minute.

There were costly individual mistakes from Brazil in attack too. In the last 15 minutes Philippe Coutinho hoofed the ball wide when he looked certain to score. Renato Augusto missed the target when he had just the keeper to beat. And Roberto Firmino blasted high and wide from about five yards with a shot on the turn. You can’t expect to win a World Cup quarter final after making so many mistakes.

Yet despite all of those errors, in my opinion, Brazil deserved to get something from this match for the way they played. Can anybody say that they didn’t think Brazil were going to equalise? You didn’t feel a Colombian goal was coming against England a few nights ago, but you did feel a second Brazil goal was coming last night. It never did. That’s football sometimes. But the way Brazil pressed and probed, incessantly, to find the equaliser was very impressive. They also came up against Thibault Courtois, who was in inspired form.

Second, Brazil were just unlucky. They hit the post. And there were several balls that bounced around the Belgian box that could easily have fallen to a Brazilian attacker but didn’t. Did I mention the penalty? Some people (including the useless VAR team) will say that it was not a penalty because the ball was out of play when Kompany fouled Jesus. Check the video again. Kompany’s leg first made contact with Jesus’s leg when the ball was still in play. Besides, Kompany made no contact with the ball.

What would have happened if that penalty was awarded? Let me tell you: Neymar would have taken it and scored, Brazil would have scored again (like they did), which would have taken the game to 2 – 2. And if the game had gone to 2 – 2, well, you decide. In my eyes, there was only ever going to be one winner if Brazil had equalised. Of course, this didn’t happen and Brazil ultimately ended on the wrong side of that fine line between success and failure.

I don’t want to take anything away from Belgium. They have some great players and if you were in their shoes, of course you were going to sit back and defend against Brazil when you are 2 – 0 up in a World Cup quarter final. They also got their tactics spot on. Bringing in Marouane Fellaini not only shored up their midfield, but it allowed Kevin de Bruyne to flourish further up the pitch, like he does for Manchester City. It also made Belgium much better at set pieces, both attacking and defending, which ultimately made the difference. Putting Romelu Lukaku on the right wing, where his pace and power caused Brazil all kinds of problems, was another masterstroke. Eden Hazard was excellent too.

You would have to say that Roberto Martinez pulled a tactical masterstroke on Tite. Unlike Martinez, Tite made no changes to his preferred lineup or formation for this game. Marcelo came in for Felippe Luis, but he was always going to come straight back in when fully fit. In hindsight, you would have to say that Tite was too inflexible with his team selection both in this competition and before it. By sticking with the same players, the same formation and the same tactics, even in the friendlies, he failed to develop a clear plan B. Not only did substitutes not get much game time (meaning they weren’t as fresh as they could be), but Brazil didn’t have a second way to play if needed.

I can see why Tite did things this way: lets get so good at plan A, that we don’t need a plan B. The stability of his team selection seemed to give the players conidence in what they were doing and it also helped to develop a club-style atmosphere in the team, which was also one of Brazil’s strengths in this competition. If it had worked, and it almost did, Tite would have looked like a genius. At the end of the day, it didn’t

My last observation is that this was not the best Seleção team of all time – they lacked some key players. The defence is very good and Alisson is top keeper, even if he didn’t show it at this competition. But Brazil’s attack was not quite to the high standard that we have come to expect. Gabriel Jesus is still just a kid and he has a lot of talent – but he is no Ronaldo, or Ronaldinho, or Romario. It is very rare for a Brazil number 9 to come away from the tournament with no goals. But that’s what happened and Brazil lacked options in that position. Willian and Paulinho were not really up to scratch either. Douglas Costa was excellent when he came on, again, and its a shame that his game time in this competition has been limited by injuries. Casemiro, suspended yesterday, was also badly missed.

I don’t agree with the claim of some that Brazil were arrogant or complacent and expected to turn up and win. That was the case in 2006, when they had a better team but were well beaten by France. Not yesterday and not in this tournament. The players were very aware that being favourites counted for nothing when they crossed the white line and that they had to fight for the win.

So there you go: some bad luck, costly individual mistakes, some inflexibility of the coach and not having their best ever team. Given all of that, I thought that Brazil’s efforts yesterday were pretty damn good. And they can hold their heads high for he way they played in that second half and how they kept going. For me, jogo bonito is not dead. Not by a long way.

That’s the brazilfooty view. What have I missed and what did I get wrong? What do you think? Leave a comment below – join the debate. All you need to do is enter your name and email address – hint: they don’t even need to be real.

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10 thoughts on “Unpicking Brazil’s World Cup exit

  1. I would like Tite to stay as Brazil coach. For me the Fernandinho was the worst player and two of his mistakes caused the defeat. If i was Tite, I would started with Filipe luiz instead of Marcelo. Then in 2nd half i would sub Neymar with Douglas Costa. I know it would be a very brave decision. But Neymar was so predictable and trust me his arrogant would end his career. Remember Brazil did beat Germany without Neymar.

    Well, Brazil 2018 world cup is over. Brazil already lost so stop complaining. Let start all over again in four years time.

    I would say Brazil should emphasize on the youth problem. Just like what England been doing. They won world under 17 and under 20. Their youth program started paying off. Look at their young team now.

    I believe Brazil can do that because they have so many talented young players. But we need a team to win the world cup not individual great like Neymar.

    • Interesting thoughts, thanks. I wouldn’t have taken out Neymar – he is Brazil’s best player. Much better than Willian. I do think that somebody needs to tell him to stop diving and exaggerating fouls and sometimes he needs to play more for the team: that was a problem in some other matches in this competition. But not against Belgium.

      Looking to the future is a great idea. I’m sure the Brazilian authorities are doing it, but maybe they could do more. Perhaps they are just relying on good players being developed by the clubs or by themselves. Is there a national strategy? I don’t know.

      What I do know is that there are some promising young players coming through – Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo, Lucas Paqueta and Arthur. Stay tuned for upcoming post on Brazil’s best young players.

  2. the weight of expectation on Brazil has always been immense. With the total media coverage nowadays there is no hiding place for the players, on or off the pitch. I watched Brazil play Austria in a friendly a couple of weeks ago. The forwards were so relaxed and assured, they won the game easily. The performance against Belgium did not reflect the skill Brazil has even with the Willian’s and Jesus’ exhibit in the EPL. They lacked the same certainty in their ability and composure.

    In the first half Belgium were so devastating. Lukaku and Roberto showed expertise seldom seen in Everton’s colours. they lifted their game and rode their luck. The woodwork and keeper did their job, but that is what you expect in any game. Brazil did not rise to the occasion, sadly they failed to deliver.

    • Thanks Dad. Yes – the pressure of playing for Brazil is immense as you say. I’m not sure if it was a case of Brazil not rising to the occasion though. They were chasing the game after a few mistakes. They played so well in the second half are were unlucky not to score. Perhaps the pressure told which is why they made those mistakes (at the back and in front of goal). Maybe Jesus felt the pressure after going four games without a goal and Willian had his place in the team questioned. Certaintly, Douglas Costa’s cameo showed what a good player he is. Belgium clearly a big cut above Austria.

  3. I am just having a real problem coming to terms with how the Belgian corner and the Dutch ball into the box that Felipe Melo and Julio Cesar butchered eight years ago resulted in two goals when the probability of these two balls resulting in a combined zero goals seems to me at least 100 times and likely 1000 times higher. Just seems something completely different from Roberto Carlos trying to bicycle the ball out of the corner in the ’98 final or Juan needlessly playing the ball over the end line to give Holland the winning corner in 2010, or Zico missing the penalty against France, or Barbosa misjudging the winning ball in ’50. I don’t blame Tite or Dunga, but I can’t begin to understand what we have suffered. The cosmic 7-1 loss last time seems totally comprehensible in comparison.

    • Interesting. So a few freakish mistakes defending set pieces has cost Brazil twice now. You cannot say that this was an attitude problem, or a mistake by trying to overplay in the wrong area or something like that. However, just playing devils advocate, when these things happen in football, the best teams find a way to come back. I outline the reasons why Brazil were unlucky against Belgium, but against Holland, Felipe Melo’s red card proved costly. That was an attitude problem (him specifically, maybe not the team). If FM had stayed on the pitch, I reckon Brazil would have beaten Holland – you could possibly blame Dunga for selection FM despite his poor disciplinary record. He encouraged his players to be aggressive though…

      • (1) Agree that Dunga deserves responsibility for selecting FM as regards the red card but not as to his horrific blunder in front of the goal. (2) Do think that the 2010 loss to Holland was an attitude problem not only in terms of the cowardly red card but also reflected in Juan’s lack of composure in failing to clear a ball out of the box instead of intentionally playing it over the end line leading to the second goal. To me, shows the cascading effect from the fiasco involving the first goal. Similar to the bickering during the pks against Paraguay over
        Thiago Silva’s hand ball in the recent Copa America. And similar to Tite’s freezing and not immediately subbing after Belgium’s second goal. And, it goes back to Roberto Carlos and his showboating failure to clear the ball out of the corner before Zidane’s first header in 1998, his failure to protect the post on the second header, and his inexplicable failure to mark Henry at the far post on the French goal in 2006. And, it continued with small things like Neymar’s seeking sideline treatment when the team was down a goal to Belgium. Some players apparently feel themselves too important, rich, or famous to focus on the task at hand. (3) I stand by lamenting the randomness of fiasco goals conceded against Belgium and Holland. After all, the Fernandinho own goal was only the second conceded by Brasil in 109 World Cup games and the Schneider (sic) goal was a run-of-play nothing ball and, by my recollection, not a set play. Further, the simple math of the effect of an extra goal in such a low-scoring sport against a good team and superior keeper militates against attempting to diminish the own goal’s impact. Saw a statistical analysis opinion after the game indicating the likely result from the run of play (presumably not taking into account the quality of the Belgian keeper) was three goals for Brasil and .5 goals for Belgium. To me, shows
        up both the decisive effect of the first goal and the lost opportunity represented by Tite’s failure to substitute and attack immediately following the second goal. (4) Really thought that Brasil had the Holland game in hand and were just letting the Dutch punch themselves out before closing them when the freak goal occurred. P.S. Thanks for the blog.

        • Thanks for the long comment and glad that you like the blog. Stay tuned for more. Not just on the Selecao but domestic competitions and everything else related to the beautiful game…

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