Brazil and the beautiful game have been synonymous for decades now. Brazil’s
people and the rest of the world have expected Brazil to play a open style of
football in which it mattered how victory was achieved – and generally Brazil
That unique style is now being jettisoned by Brazil’s new coach Dunga in favor of a more physical and efficient game in which Brazil stifle the opponents in midfield and rely on fast counter-attacks to win.
This new approach has just earned Brazil the Copa America Cup – but at a cost. Throughout the tournament Brazil were basically inconsistent, mechanical and simply painful to watch. Victories earned in this grim new manner may not be enough for Brazilians.
The great Brazil teams of 1982 and 1986, coached by the late Telê Santana, exemplified all that was magical about the free-flowing Brazilian game. Santana had believed in the philosophy that if football is worth playing, it is worth playing well and the manner of winning counts. According to Dunga, Santana’s Brazil was “specialist in losing”.
In the 1982 World Cup, with players like Zico and Sócrates, Brazil had mesmerized the world. Victory in 1982 would have placed Santana’s team alongside the legendary 1970 Brazil. Unluckily for Santana and co. in 1982 Italy’s resurrected Paolo Rossi destroyed Brazil’s dreams in the quarter-finals.
Santana’s Brazil did not panic or abandon their flowing style. In Mexico 1986 Brazil played the same open, wonderful football. However, this time the narrow loss to France on penalties in the quarters caused too much discontent. Santana resigned and Brazil was restructured leading to the mediocre team of USA 1994 that won the World Cup on penalties in a yawn-filled final against Italy.
To be certain, the 1998 and 2002 teams were an improvement on 1994 but after the disappointment in Germany 2006, the pendulum swung again.
Dunga’s Brazil beat arch-rivals Argentina in the final of Copa America this year but nobody really believes Brazil was the best team. In recent years it has been Argentina that has been playing the most skillful football. It is Argentina who now exemplify the beautiful game.
Dunga should not think the Copa win is a vindication of his new efficient Brazil. This victory is unlikely to placate Brazilians for long and no other nation has an entire population dedicated to dissecting the national team.
A national team that relies on physical strength and breaking up play in midfield can be outdone by other even more physical teams, with football being the real loser. There is no limit to skill and inventiveness and this is the Brazilian way.
Dunga may eventually find a balance between his physical game and Brazil’s traditional open style. Pressure will certainly grow on Dunga from his compatriots. Efficiency and skill are not incompatible as teams like Italy occasionally show.
Argentina too has its problems despite playing astounding football. Just like Brazil after 1986, pressure will build for victories. Argentina has not won a major trophy since the Copa America Cup in 1993. The last time Argentina lifted the World Cup was in 1986.
For the sake of the game, let us hope that Argentina will not submit to the pressure to win at all costs but rather have the courage to stay the course.
If they do the world will love them for it and they will inspire others to follow them. In a world where football is dominated by a handful of super-clubs and big money, Argentina is a breath of fresh air – as Brazil used to be and can be again.
Paolo Bassi is an attorney in the United States. He has visited Brasil and follows Brazilian football and politics. Bassi has also written on politics and culture. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and welcomes your comments.