Jogo bonito the exception, not the rule
SAO PAULO, Brazil -- There is no outrage in Brazil. There are no allegations of a legacy being betrayed, no wailing complaints that victory should not come at any cost. Lance!, the sports daily, sums it up best. The cartoon in their Sunday edition depicted Colombia's Camilo Zuniga cowering beneath the looming form of Hulk, the striker about to mete out vigilante justice to the man who fractured Neymar's spine.
There is no mention of the robust physical approach Luiz Felipe Scolari's side adopted in their quarterfinal with the Colombians. There is no gnashing of teeth or rending of garments at the sight of Brazil abandoning their tradition of jogo bonito, casting off their reputation as the world's great entertainers in order to indulge in a policy of deliberate aggression designed to negate James Rodriguez.
All there is -- apart from some criticism of Carlos Velasco Carballo for not sending the Napoli full-back off -- is that one cartoon. Think about the iconography. Zuniga has apologised for what was certainly a foul, probably should have been a booking, but most likely was not deliberate. Yet here he is, contrite, being threatened once more.
It is not simply that Brazil did not object to what Scolari had his side do. It is that the nation saw so little wrong with the approach that two days on, it is advocating deploying physical force again. Remorse is painted as weakness. Violence is seen as strength.
A little perspective, perhaps, is required. Fortaleza 2014 was not the Battle of Santiago. Rodriguez was fouled just six times; none of them caused serious injury, though in a sense that is down to blind luck.
If it is deeply unfortunate that Neymar should have been ruled out of the tournament -- he has enjoyed a wonderful two weeks, coping admirably with the deadening weight of expectation placed on his shoulders -- then it is only thanks to the kindness of fate that not one of the challenges on Colombia's No. 10 did any substantial damage. It is hardly rocket science to point out that the more you foul someone, the more likely they are to get hurt.
But that should not be used as a defence of what Brazil did. There was, firstly, a cold calculation in the way they played it. Fernandinho was initially the nominated hatchet man; when he seemed to be skirting too close to the wind, his teammates took his place. The fouls rotated, reducing the risk of the one booking that would have stopped them.
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Secondly, and possibly more importantly, by the standards of the modern game, Scolari's tactics bordered on the hardcore. Football in the 21st century is essentially a different sport to the one that Italy and Chile were playing in 1962, or that Hungary and Brazil indulged in back in 1954 -- the so-called "Battle of Berne."
Fouling one player six times -- or, more accurately, being caught fouling one player six times -- is about as nasty as it is possible to get given the extent to which all forms of tackling, legal and illegal, have been removed from the game.
In an age in which everything has to be the best or worst of something ever or it seems somehow mediocre and meaningless, there is always a risk of exaggeration. In this case, though, much of the distaste felt by what Luis Suarez would refer to as "the football family" seems legitimate. Brazil did go too far. They did not, if there is such a nebulous notion, win in quite the right way.
Why, then, the disconnect between how the rest of the world viewed Scolari's approach and how Brazil saw it? That is simple. It is because the image everyone except the Brazilians have of Brazil is based on what could be a misconception and may well be a myth.
In Andreas Campomar's "Golazo," his history of Latin American football, he describes the process by which Argentina went from a team that believed only in self-indulgent entertainment -- the style of play based on tricks, feints and dribbles that was known as la nuestra -- to the country that produced some of the most brutal sides of all time: Estudiantes in the late 1960s, for example, and the national team described, indelicately, by Sir Alf Ramsey as "animals" in 1966.
The sea change came in 1958, when a team widely seen in the Cono Sur as favourites for the World Cup went to Sweden determined to teach the planet the virtues of la nuestra and returned home chastened, beaten 6-1 by Czechoslovakia. Argentine football entered a deep period of soul-searching, eventually concluding that a game based on a vindictive form of fantasy was outdated. They needed a nastier streak, a greater will to win, a heightened sense of professionalism in every form. In a culture that Campomar describes as "not prone to moderation," the "animals" and Estudiantes were the ultimate, exaggerated product of that desire.
Brazil had two such moments. One came in 1966, when Pele was kicked out of the World Cup. Its impact was delayed -- they were pretty good in 1970, if memory serves -- but by 1974 they had decided that they had to abolish "futebol arte" and adopt "futebol força," kicking with the best of them in West Germany.
Then came 1986 when the remnants of perhaps the purest Brazil side of them all -- the 1982 generation of Zico, Socrates and Falcao -- were beaten by France in the quarterfinals of the World Cup. Again, Brazilian football changed direction. The artists went out and the artisans were in. Coaches such as Carlos Alberto Parreira -- now the country's technical director, and a man cut from the same cloth as Scolari -- decided that they could not beat the Europeans playing their way. They had to try to match them physically.
The difference is that this time, the change has stuck. Brazil's failures in 1974 and (with a better, but not classic, side) 1978 allowed futebol arte one final flourish. Defeat in Mexico in 1986 would kill it off completely.
Every single Brazil side that followed has had functionality at its heart. That is not to say they have been uniformly "bad" teams -- 1994, 1998 and 2002 were all very good sides -- or that they have not had redeeming features. The partnership of Bebeto and Romario were thrilling to watch as the country won their fourth World Cup in 1994; so too Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo in 2002.
But none of those teams played like the Brazil of popular imagination. Yes, they had outstanding individuals, and yes, they had flashes of genius -- though the number of emphatic performances they produced against high-class opposition is extremely small -- but they were rigorously structured, obsessively drilled and always under control.
This is best summed up by one change Parreira made in 1994: dropping his captain, Rai, Socrates' brother and a player in the finest Brazilian tradition, and replacing him with Mazinho, a dogged but limited right-sided midfielder, to play alongside Mauro Silva and Dunga. If ever there was an illustration of how modern Brazilian football thinks, that was it.
That is not a bad thing -- Brazil are under no obligation to play in a certain way -- but it does suggest that we hold them to an unfair standard. We imagine that they must always play like the 1970 team, despite 44 years and counting of clogging defenders and midfield pivots. We are tricked by memories that most of us do not have, memories held in the cloud of our collective subconscious, memories massaged by the marketing men. We recall that Nike advert in the airport departures lounge more clearly than we recall what Brazil's 1998 team was actually like. They had Dunga and Cesar Sampaio in midfield. You did not see them juggle the ball on a baggage carousel.
Those two (and Kleberson, four years later) are, though, far more typical of what Brazilian club football is like than the sorcerers and the tricksters of popular imagination. That Brazil still produces such a remarkable supply of magicians does not disguise that much of the football her fans watch week in and week out is full of things like cynical, tactical fouling and robust physicality. Perhaps the ruthless environment, to some extent, explains the production line: you have to be very good, indeed, to look good.
That is the reason there is no outrage in Brazil over what happened against Colombia. They are used to it. They have seen the Selecao play this way for years. They have seen their club teams follow suit. This is what Brazilian football is; they remember the golden age, too, but they see it for what it is: over. Like the rest of us, they know that this is about winning. It does not matter how you -- or they -- do it.
Rory Smith is a columnist for ESPN FC and The Times. Follow him on Twitter @RorySmithTimes.