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A Closer Look At Brazil’s Struggles

(Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

Things are still not looking great for Brazil. Failing to impress during this Summer’s Copa America, the team is yet to show a significant improvement after their undeniable failure during last year’s World Cup.

This week, as they tied 1-1 in Buenos Aires, the sentiment amongst many fans was the same. Despite holding on to a point, Brazil looked stale, shaky and short of ideas against an Argentina side that was missing players of the caliber of Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi.

But what is really happening with the Verdeamarela? The press and the fans, it seems, don’t really know who to blame anymore.

During the World Cup, critics and fans fell hard on former coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who was fired right after the tournament. However, not much has changed under the management of Dunga – a fact that has left many wondering whether the main problem lies away from the coaching side of the equation.

Now, this is not to say that Dunga hasn’t made questionable decisions as Brazil boss. For instance, the former-player has made some interesting choices in terms of squad selections, often favoring, for example, the likes of Diego Tardelli and Kaka over in-form Liverpool midfielder Phillipe Coutinho.

In fact, just this week, after the match against Argentina, Dunga became the subject of much criticism for his decision to include Santos attackers Ricardo Oliveira and Lucas Lima in his starting eleven over Douglas Costa and Hulk, both of whom have been in sensational form for their european clubs in the last few weeks.

However, it is important to keep in mind that, over the course of this term, Dunga has had the need to go for risky decisions in order to keep the Brazilian boat afloat. The former Brazil captain received an almost shapeless team from Scolari, and he has had to make a wide range of tactical alterations to try to spark some inspiration. Many of these ideas have even proven their worth – it was the questioned Lima, after all, who wound up scoring the equalizer against Argentina.

Part of the issue behind Brazil’s lack of flashiness might have to do with expectations. Possibly the most important national team in history, Brazil is not only expected to maintain a certain superiority, but also to play in a certain way. Unlike the Argentines, for example, who have historically been torn between pragmatism and lyricism, Brazilians tend to have a wide consensus in favor of flair, technique and individual skill – jogo bonito.

But today Brazil doesn’t have the overwhelming surplus of flair and individual talent it used to have in previous years. Between 1993 and 2007, for example, Brazil had at least one player among the top-three World Player of the Year contenders each year except for one, including the likes or Romario, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldinho or Kaka. But since 2007, a Brazilian player has not appeared amongst those top spots even one time.

The evolution of tactical and physical preparation has changed the game, making teams more physical, compact and, overall, less vulnerable to penetration through mere dribbling and individual skill. And without their usual amount of world-class superstars in their side, Brazil’s quest to play the same football they played in past decades might be set for failure.

Perhaps what Brazil need is to let go of extremes. The best course of action for them right now might just be to look for a path somewhere in the middle: a strategy that acknowledges their limitations and Dunga’s pragmatic ideals, while at the same time exploiting the talent they do possess. An approach that can take advantage of Willian’s long balls and Fernando’s physical strength, while bolstering the skill of its pacier dribblers, including, of course, the endlessly talented Neymar.

On Tuesday, Brazil will face Peru in what is sure to be an extremely interesting matchup: Ricardo Gareca’s men have looked impressive since their third-place finish in this year’s Copa America, and they will look to open up and take risks in favor of fast-paced attacking play. Dunga’s team will have a chance to show what they can do with the ball, but it won’t be an easy challenge.

Peru started the tournament with consecutive losses against Colombia and Chile, but already looked better last Friday, as they beat out Paraguay by 1-0. They are also sure to enjoy a boost with the return of winger Christian Cueva, who was out serving a suspension during their last match.

“These latest qualifiers show what the classification is like. We have to win at home and away, try to generate some points, win some or draw,” Dunga pointed out after Brazil’s last match.

So far, with a win, a draw, and a loss on their record, Brazil stand in fourth place in the CONMEBOL table: only one point above of eighth-placed Peru, and five points away from leaders Ecuador.

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