Play-off unlikely to capture Brazil’s imagination

Hard to imagine the home crowd getting behind their team against the Netherlands after semi-final humiliation

At Wednesday's semi-final between Argentina and the Netherlands, aka The Day After, it was noticeable that most of the Brazilians in attendance, like defeated soldiers fleeing the battlefield, had shed their canary yellow tops.

In contrast to the rest of the tournament the stands lacked the usual swathes of yellow. They were there as one half-hearted attempt at the traditional song about being proud to be Brazilian made clear. It quickly petered out, though Argentinian taunts about the 7-1 drew a more militant response of “five-times champions”.

One a cold, wet night that perfectly matched the natives’ humour many did not even bother to stick around for extra-time. There were plenty of vacant seats by the time penalties finally resolved the tedious stalemate and saw their arch-rivals advance to the final.

Across Brazil the mood remains one of shock, anger and confusion as the team prepares to return to the field for the first time since the historic defeat to Germany in Belo Horizonte. Most football fans will agree with Louis van Gaal that the third-place play-off should never be played.


But today it will at least be interesting. Will the local fans bother to show up? If they do how will they greet their humiliated team? Will there be a repeat of the vicious insults that rained down on Dante, Oscar and Fred in the Mineirão? Or indifference?

Luiz Felipe Scolari must pick his players up off the floor but even if he does there will be no redemption. What happened on Tuesday was too galling for anything that might occur in Brasília to staunch the bloodletting now under way.

Felipão himself is a dead man walking. In an amazing demonstration of the innate conservatism of CBF, on Thursday the idea was floated of him remaining on, at least for a few months. That drew scorn on the evening’s football programmes where the future of the national team is being intensely debated.

Tuesday’s debacle

So by yesterday morning CBF president José Maria Marin, silent since Tuesday’s debacle, was reportedly signalling that he blamed Felipão for the fiasco and would be firing him on Monday when he will receive the coach’s final report on the tournament.

It was Marin, a figure loathed and ridiculed in various measures in Brazil for his shady past, who appointed Felipão in the first place on taking over in 2012.

Reports in São Paulo say he has already agreed a deal to appoint Tite, who won the Libertadores Cup with Corinthians and defeated Chelsea for the World Club Cup in 2012. Like Felipão, he is another coach from Brazil’s tough southern gaúcho school of football with a reputation for fielding defensive teams.

But calls for deeper reform to Brazil’s football structure are growing. Much has been made in the media of the contrast between Germany’s focus on youth development since 2000 and Brazilian football’s business model which exports players at a young age, putting their development in the hands of foreigners.

This lack of long-term planning has been highlighted by the fact that of the team that faced Brazil on Tuesday six were part of the German side that won Uefa’s Under-21 Championship in 2009. In contrast not a single Brazilian player from the team which in the same year won the equivalent tournament in South America is in the current Brazil squad and only two – Neymar and Oscar – have progressed from the team that retained the youth title in 2011.

Shady lawyer

With Marin due to retire next year and hand over the presidency of CBF to another shady lawyer who never kicked a ball in his long career as a football cartola (top hat) Brazil’s government seems decided that reform will have to come from elsewhere and is signalling it will take the lead.

In a radio interview on Thursday President Dilma Rousseff added her voice to growing calls for a "renovation" of Brazilian football and specifically called for the country to cease being an exporter of young players.

Her sports minister has already suggested legislation to reform football is required. Should the government finally build up the courage to confront the country’s football bosses and the Globo network which has the television rights to the game in Brazil and wields undue influence within CBF it might find itself in conflict with Fifa which jealously protects its members from political interference.

But given Brazilian contempt both along the corridors of power and out on the street for the organisation in Zurich that might be a fight the authorities will not shy away from.

With such a battle brewing today’s game in Brasília is merely a sideshow.

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South America