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YELLOW PHOENIX

  • Date:6th April 2018
  • Words:Dan Jones

They were the best team in the history of international football, revered the world over. They were hosting the World Cup. They were meant to win. What happened instead was absolute humiliation.

Every football fan knows what happened on 8 July 2014 in Belo Horizonte. It was Brazil’s first competitive home defeat in 39 years; their first regular defeat at home for 12 years; their biggest defeat in World Cup finals history, far surpassing their 3-0 loss to France in the final of ’98; the first time a team had conceded five or more goals by half-time in a World Cup semi-final … the list goes on. To add insult to injury Miroslav Klose, the German Tormaschine, scored to steal the all-time World Cup goalscoring record from Brazil’s own El Fenomeno. It hurt.

The statistics kept mounting and the critics were scathing. Alan Hansen said of the game: “I’ve been watching football for over 50 years. The high point was the Brazil team of 1970. This is the low point.”

Where do you go from that? Why, to former coach and playing legend Dunga of course.

THIS WAS ROCK BOTTOM. SOMETHING HAD TO CHANGE.

Only that didn’t work out so well either. Following a positive start to his second tenure, failure in the Copa America meant missing out on the Confederations Cup for the first time in 20 years and a subsequent group-stage exit at the Copa Centenario the summer after was their first at such an early round since 1987.

This was rock bottom.

Something had to change.

Enter Adenor Leonardo Bacchi, better known to the world as Tite.

The well-respected Brazilian had only narrowly missed out on the job the last time round, but as a student of the game he had simply bided his time, furthering his education until his moment arrived. The task facing the forward-thinking former Corinthians manager was not an easy one however, underpinned by the fact that the luxury of time that he’d been enjoying would not be available when it came to reviving this injured beast. The idea of a World Cup without Brazil did not bear thinking about, but when he took charge in June 2016 that was exactly what was on the cards as they floundered in sixth place in the South America qualifiers. Added to that was pressure from the Brazilian FA and the Brazilian people, heck, even the rest of the world demanded a Brazil team that played the brand of entertaining football that had become synonymous with the Seleção.

One of the first things he did? He got the players playing 20 yards further up the pitch, allowing them to dictate play in more dangerous positions – a simple yet incredibly effective tweak and a stark contrast to the defensively minded Dunga. It stands to reason that if you’re an offensive team, you play to your strengths. Well it did to Tite anyway.

But being an offensive team means reliance on more than one offensive player, even if that one was to become the most expensive player in the world. Brazil have always been famed for their goalscoring exploits, often executed by their world-class strike partnerships with one creative flair player, and one out-and-out goalscorer – think Ronaldinho and Ronaldo, Bebeto and Romario, Pele and … anyone else who played alongside Pele. For some strange reason though, the role of goalscoring striker was one that Brazil had been struggling to fill for a while, with all the recent pretenders lingering in utter mediocrity. Tite, Neymar, and all of Brazil needed a new striker.

With only 20 minutes remaining of a difficult goalless World Cup qualifier with Ecuador in Quito – a place in which Brazil had never won a World Cup qualifier before – a young teenage debutant named Gabriel Jesus decided to make his mark. And he did it in style with two goals and an assist, the game ending 3-0 to Brazil.

It was the catalyst that saw the Seleção go on to win their next eight qualifiers as Tite smashed João Saldanha's 47-year record of six in a row. By March 2017 following this remarkable run, Brazil had become the first team to qualify for Russia 2018, and with Neymar, Jesus, Willian and Coutinho dancing through defences, the Seleção, it seemed, had once again found their swagger.

THE SELEÇÃO HAD ONCE AGAIN FOUND THEIR SWAGGER.

Another important step on the road to rehabilitation then came on 27 March 2018 when Brazil were finally able to put the past behind them with a 1-0 win over Germany. Sure, the Germans fielded a supposedly weakened team, and sure, it was just a friendly, but it was the psychological impact of being able to step on to the pitch and go toe to toe with the team that had defeated them so completely four years before. The victory ended Germany’s 22-match unbeaten run and imparted a small measure of revenge to boot.

And so Brazil appear to once again be a force to be reckoned with. Back in their rightful place amongst the favourites to win the tournament, Tite has turned a nightmare into a reason to dream once more for the people of Brazil. All that remains for their rehabilitation and ultimate redemption is for them to lift the trophy this summer. Brazil vs Germany final anyone?

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