“We’d seen the trailer so many times, and today we got the film.” Globo pundit Caio Ribeiro’s take on Felipe Melo’s indiscipline was one of the more eloquent reactions to Brazil’s loss to Holland, which spelt the end of the World Cup for the seleção. Galvão Bueno, Brazil’s pre-eminent commentator, looked on the verge of tears, and Falcão lamented at length the thoroughly ‘un-Brazilian’ football displayed by the team throughout the tournament.
One emotion, however, was universal, among Brazilians on the street as well as the screen; shock. Forty-five minutes of madness had seen the seleção go from the brink of booking their place in the semi-finals to the shame of booking their plane tickets home; from heroes to zeroes.
Dani Alves lies prone after the final whistle.
Brazil, despite not having excelled in the opening period, looked comfortable. Few could have predicted what was to occur in the second period. After 53 minutes, a rare defensive error gifted Holland an equaliser. After a (nominal) Michel Bastos foul on Arjen Robben, and a quick free-kick, Wesley Sneijder swung over a hopeful cross from the right. The whole Brazilian defence appeared to expect Júlio César to claim the high ball…except Felipe Melo, who evidently didn’t receive that particular memo. The two jumped together, and the ball flicked of Felipe Melo’s head into the net.
The seleção were visibly rattled, and quickly conceded a second. Robben’s corner was flicked on by Dirk Kuyt at the near post, and Sneijder was left free to head home from close range. Brazil suddenly had it all to do with thirty minutes to play. The task would have been difficult enough with eleven men, but then came Felipe Melo’s (second) moment of madness. After hacking Robben to the ground, the Juventus volante proceeded to stamp on the winger’s thigh, right under the nose of the referee. It was a bizarre incident; a moment of such sheer idiocy that it didn’t seem real. The commentary merely reinforced this illusion; rather than raising his voice, or sighing in frustration, Galvão calmly noted that “this was always a possibility.”
Felipe Melo sees red.
The body was barely cold before the post-mortem had begun. The blame thus far has been spread fairly evenly between Felipe Melo and Dunga, although some have suggested that problems caused by the former are merely a manifestation of the latter’s errors; that Dunga ought to have noticed this particular disciplinary time bomb before it exploded in his and the nation’s face. Dunga also must be criticised for the lack of feasible game-changing options on his bench; how he must have wished to see Ronaldinho, Diego, Paulo Henrique Ganso, and Alexandre Pato on the bench next to him, rather than Júlio Baptista, Kléberson, Gilberto, and Grafite.
The strongest complaints, however, will be those of the type made by Falcão; that Brazil not only lost, but lost playing ugly football. The claim that Dunga’s seleção has only ever been based on physicality and functionality may be somewhat of an exaggeration, but many are in favour of shifting the team’s priorities back to the aesthetic. In a country whose (self) image is both reflected in and defined by the style of its football, there is a feeling that the uniqueness of the seleção has been lost in the past twenty years.
This process, of course, may be irreversible, given modern trends of commercialisation, professionalism, and increased physical preparation, but if one were to distil public opinion in Brazil this evening, I’m sure one would find a desire to bring back the intricate, flowing football of 1970 and 1982. Brazil’s dreams of becoming hexacampeão may be over for another four years, but today’s loss could turn out to be a positive juncture in its illustrious footballing history.
(Photo credits; (1) Laurence Griffiths/Getty, (2) Robert Ghement/GPA.)