This is a different Brazil. Forming my fantasy football team, I realised that I had not selected a single player from pre-tournament favourites and host nation, Brazil. Re-forming it now for the quarter-finals, I once again didn’t choose a single Brazilian player. This is slightly to do with my aversion to Neymar (I know he’s a good player, I know he’ll be a great player, but that doesn’t mean I have to like him), but apart from his absence can you really think of another player in the Brazil side that I should select?
A case can be made for the defence. But only one clean sheet in four games this tournament hardly gives me confidence against a Colombian side who have scored 11 goals and boast James Rodriguez, who in my mind has been the stand out player this tournament.
Anyway, what’s the point of all this? Well, the point is that it has been a different team in yellow that have been the most wonderful to watch this World Cup. Brazil have in most ways been the opposite: inappropriate decision goes for them, or a ball to hit some woodwork. Gone are the days or Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Rivaldo dazzling the world stage, let alone the eras I am too young to remember.
Without Neymar, this team is average. They were lucky against a Croatian team that were well organised. A wrongfully disallowed goal and a penalty that wasn’t denied the Croats (who were without top striker Mario Mandzukic); a draw in the first game would have caused uproar amonst fans. The second game was a standard victory over an awful, awful Cameroon side, who still managed to cause a brief scare. After that, a 0-0 draw with Mexico was a damp squib. Then Chile pushed them too close for comfort, as, first Pinilla in regular time, and then Gonzalo Jara in the penalty shoot-out, hit the post, denying Chile the chance to progress.
So what’s the problem? Well, central midfield.
In the Confederations Cup, Neymar played wider, allowing space for Oscar to move the ball through midfield. Now that Neymar plays through the middle, there is little space for anyone else. As a result, their central midfielders have been more functional. Defensive rather than men who can make something happen. Luis Gustavo, Paulinho and Fernandinho are strong, physical players, but lack the quality to control a game, particularly in the possession-based games Brazilians are used to. Their roaming full-backs too have been disappointing. Dani Alves and Marcelo play for some of the biggest teams in the world, but on the biggest stage, they have been shadows, standing, shaded by the towering presence of Cafu and Roberto Carlos.
Of course, saying all this, they are still in a World Cup Quarter Final. No matter how they get through, a victory on home soil in a World Cup will probably be enough to replace the boredom Brazil have caused to change into the biggest street party the World has ever seen.