Brazil on their marks
Brazil and the World Cup were synonymous. Not anymore, almost. The two had a love affair that was unrivaled in the sporting world. No country has adorned the World Cup like Brazil have and the World Cup has not adorned any country like Brazil. Today, they seem to be cheating on each other. Or, Brazil are simply getting outsmarted by other suitors and the World Cup is getting won over, gradually. It’s the harsh reality.
The Seleçao no longer exude the awe and aura of yesteryear. The grip they had on the World Cup has weakened and familiar territory has suddenly become unpredictable. A record five titles may be unsurpassed but two other rivals now have four. They are the only country on Earth not to have missed a World Cup since Uruguay 1930.
CONMEBOL, the football organizing body in South America has outlined the marathon qualification campaign for Qatar 2022. It starts this weekend and finishes in March 2022. In the end, the top four teams go straight to Qatar and the fifth placed team engages in a playoff with the fourth placed team from CONCACAF, in Central America and the Caribbean for a slot.
Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela battle it out in a round-robin format, where all play all home and away. Brazil then, have their work cut out for them. They must put past glory and reputation aside and earn a flight to Qatar. They must realize that the fear factor about them has waned considerably and grind out results.
Coach Adenor Leonardo Bacchi, affectionately known as Tite has called 23 players for the double header this month. They host Bolivia in São Paulo on October 10 before traveling to Lima to play Peru on October 14. The squad has five players currently plying their trade in the Brazileirão; goalkeeper Weverton and right-back Gabriel Menino from Palmeiras, another goalkeeper Santos from Athletico Paranaense and the Flamengo pair of centre-back Rodrigo Caio and midfielder Everton Ribeiro.
The European contingent has the usual suspects. There is room for evergreen Chelsea signing Thiago Silva, who will be 37 when the World Cup comes around, the PSG pair of Neymar and Marquinhos, the Atletico Madrid duo of Renan Lodi (LB) and Felipe (CB), Coutinho, Casemiro, Alisson, Firmino and Richarlison. The irrepressible attacker Everton Soares of Benfica, Danilo (RB) of Juventus, Manchester United new boy Alex Telles (LB), midfielder Douglas Luiz of Aston Villa, midfielder Bruno Guimarães of Lyon and teenage sensation Rodrygo Goes of Real Madrid. Gabriel Jesus has had to be replaced by Matheus Cunha of Hertha Berlin and captain Dani Alves of São Paulo is out injured.
This is a balanced team with a good mix of experience and youth. There will be changes as the dreaded, tortuous journey wears on but a core of these players will be intact. It’s going to be interspersed with domestic and continental club matches in the course of the season. For players based in Europe, the journey across the Atlantic Ocean, always a hectic one, must be endured every now and then.
Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay and Uruguay are always rivals of varying degrees in qualifying. Bolivia have often surprised and can be unbeatable at high altitude La Paz. If Peru reached the final of the last Copa America in Brazil, it means they are a force to reckon with. Venezuela, the only country from the continent yet to qualify for the World Cup, have recently had promising youth teams, perhaps in a bid to curb the trend anytime soon.
Tite and his charges come on the back of a Copa win at home last year. They did so without talisman Neymar, beating Messi’s Argentina along the way and here comes something instructive. The storied dependence on the PSG star must be negotiated around. Felipe Scolari failed in the 2014 World Cup at home simply because he didn’t have a plan B after him. Going forward, any attitude akin to that will signify a huge letdown.
Unparalleled stardust, legendary landmarks, iconic managers and indelible memories have all created a myth around Brazil as regards the World Cup. If the 1950 World Cup disaster, christened ‘Maracanãzo’ is the biggest sin in Brazilian football history, I dare say any group of players and technical team that fail to qualify for the World Cup would have done worse. If Tite shockingly fails, he would have to go and live on the North Pole. But will he? I very much doubt it.
Yours in the beautiful game