Thursday, July 10, 2014

How Germany put Brazil through a shredder.

In all social networks, there was never a serious opinion about the possibility of Brazil playing on Sunday. Save for the Brazilians themselves, there was nothing championship material about them. Few remained neutral given they had their backs covered by the fans. The ruthless went on to say they have been lucky to be in the semi-final. Their player of the tournament so far has been referred to as Refereedinho. On the lighter side, the German Cut prevailed over Brazilian Hair. German Shepherds became dogs of choice too.

Is it the Samba football is extinct? Many think it never existed. The argument borders around their ability to unearth rough diamonds, often more than one at a time. In this particular case, Neymar’s performance captivated the country and the world and at that tender age, he is a cult hero. The same can be said about the generation of Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Romario and Bebeto. The team operated on individual brilliance without any cutting edge. As many pundits and the expecrts of the game will tell you, there is little any individual genius could have done against Germany.

After a record three title by the 1974 Fifa World Cup, Brazil looked cast with a spell and their drought of the Cup worried professors in many of their universities. Despite the flamboyant characters like Socrates and Zico, the Brazilian hopes crushed from World Cup to World Cup. It became less of a priority to the nation as each coach came in and went. The coaching job of the Celestiao became ordinary and less interesting. After the Italia ’90, Brazil had to look closely at their case and prescribe the best medicine but the problem was the diagnosis.  

It came to an appointment of Carlos Alberto Perreira to make inroads into the thorny issue. Perreira faced the truth head on and became realistic with the situation on the ground. His findings did not seem real to many and he began to lose a few friends straight away. Brazilian football lacked the leadership qualities that Perreira had seem in his days as a physical trainer during the last championship Brazil won in 1970.

Perreira used all resources all coaches used since 1979, especially documentation regarding the play and styles of the national teams. The technical and tactical information compiled by a top coach who was a journalist, included photographs, video and audio files and studied thoroughly. Many coaches prior to that period had done that, but it came to the choice of players and Perreira had to put his balls on the vice. The biggest fallout with the football fathers was Dunga. Dunga had neither style nor flair. No one expected him near the field of play. Carlos Alberto Perreira made him the chief cornerstone of his operation.

All that followed was the beautiful game dubbed a failure and unattractive. Save for the brilliance of Romario and Bebeto, the game played by Perreira’s team went against everything Brazilian. His employers and fans disowned them as they headed to the USA ’94. That unattractive team, as far as the Brazilians were concerned, won the Fifa World Cup 24 years after their 1970 glory during the days of Pele. That team had leaders in Cesar Sampiao, Junior Baiano, Leonardo and Tafarrel among others.

Many forgave Perreira and accepted him as a hero. That moment changed Brazilian football as they began to Europeanise their game. In my class in Brazil, one great player who played the 1958 final with Mario Zagallo and Pele, Sebastao Araujo, addressed the class to sing praises for Perreira. Between that World Cup and the 1970 victory, they had played against European opposition and came unstuck. The players came out of the field complaining, “They can’t let us play, they don’t let us play”. Those aware of the story in Brazil, understood Perreira after the victory, even though they did not agree with him. The man took a huge gamble and risked his job and future and it paid off. That is why he will ever be their greatest coach ever.

Luiz Filipe Scolari romped in Perreira for this reason when the country won the right to host the 2014 Fifa World Cup. Big Phil had the luxury of many players plying their trade in Europe. The team he assembled comprised the talismanic Neymar. The idea of discounting Fabiano and trusting Fred might be inspired by the choice Perreira made with Dunga. Many fail to understand that out of over 16 million registered professionals, Fred and Joe rank the highest. With modern trends in the game, Willian, Paulinho, Ramirez and Fernandinho, one sees a solid midfield shield that can withstand any push in world. The offensive job of Oscar would be obvious to fully complement Neymar’s genius.  

The Brazil defence always looked porous for most of their lives, and that weakness got concealed by the single-handed attacking power of Neymar Jr. It is Joachim Louw looked at that and worked a plan to stop Brazil from playing. The hosts always thought of causing pain in the opposition defence. As soon as questions were asked of his defence, there were no answers. German’s attitude revolved around pushing higher up and playing the game in the defensive half of their opposition. The game being played that high up in the field, a few Brazilians were made redundant as they played the game ahead of the ball.

One thing any team needs is numerical disadvantage, and if you are playing Germany or Italy, your troubles are tripled. The field being over 105 yards long, the Europeans cut that distance by over 50% and already being a man or two and at times even three players over the Brazilians, it turned out to the a training on phases of play in the attacking third. In those circumstances, all players became drawn off positions and German players picked and chose who would score next. Despite the already erratic shape that the team was in, David Luiz and Marcelo tried to go forward, further thinning the already diluted defence. With more men in half the field of play, the quality of attack would tear to shreds any principles of defending.

There was nothing tactical or shrewd about how Brazil had taken to the field in this Fifa World Cup, except that at the start, they showed the will to win more than the fear to lose and they lost badly. Many teams employed interesting playing patterns and substitutions, especially the Dutch, Luis van Gaal with his famous Krul gamble against Costa Rica. It was a decision that could make or break him, not that he needed the making, but it could have backfired badly. In that match, Costa Rica started worse off than Brazil did against Germany. The Ticos reacted and resolved an issue that could have led to a football catastrophe.

German’s Joachim Louw had the gallows ready for him when they played against Portugal. The German schemer toyed around with the team tactics as he deployed Mezuit Ozil in an unfamiliar role. The Germany football think tank watched closely at the crazy idea. His plan was to keep check on Cristaino Ronaldo’s defensive duties. Germany did not want the Real Madrid kingpin to be just focussed on attack, but to have a concern of Ozil. That worked and Germany won. Had he lost, he would have been jobless by now and Brazil would still be in the Fifa World Cup. For a team of Brazil’s stature, there are many things not expected to happen, no matter how wrong the setup. On that night, they did happen to when it mattered most.

Scolari set up a team ready for slaughter and the executioner happened to be clinical and on top of his game. Even in his slumber, he could have lethal, given the naivety of the blindfolded Brazil. At this point, Brazil will have to wait for the next generation of magicians to aid Neymar, and a coach to match. Perreira and Scolari have won their glory and passed their ‘use by’ dates. They are good in what they do and should mentor the young and hungry. If there is one thing to learn from that embarrassment, pass the button for success. Do not fail and be reactionary. Coaches always encourage players to be proactive, and that is one thing the Brazilian contingent did not do; from the appointment of the coaches to the disaster on the night.