why Brazil’s footballing success has been overstated, and why they are doomed to fail forever – Palatinate

By Joseph Saunders

Brazil went into the 2022 Qatar World Cup as the favorites to lift to the trophy. Expectations were high, especially for superstar Neymar, who was in electric form for his club Paris Saint-Germain. The Samba Stars comfortably qualified from a very competitive group and dispatched South Korea with a mesmeric first half performance in the quarterfinals. But it was just when they seemed to hit their stride that they fell – on penalties to Croatia. But why has Brazil struggled to match its historic reputation? And why are they doomed to fail forever?

To fail is to fall short of expectations. Brazil has the highest expectations of any football team on Earth. And on the surface, that appears deserved, with their historic successes. However, with a little research, it is possible to argue Brazil is not the king of football they are made out to be.

Five stars. That is how many are stitched into the yellow jerseys, symbolizing the number of World Cups the team has won. It is the most ever. In fact, Brazil is the only team to feature in every single edition of the World Cup since the inaugural tournament in 1930. Successes in 1958, 1962, and 1970 catapulted Brazil into the public consciousness as the epitome of global success, just as the TV age began. The timing of this exposure to the general public created an aura around the team, propelled by the unique bright yellow shirts and the best player the world had ever seen, Pelé. Pelé was present for all three triumphs, being the only player to lift the World Cup three times. To have the greatest player of all time reach his peak as international football was going global cultivated a reputation Brazil did not fully deserve.

Successes in 1958, 1962, and 1970 catapulted Brazil into the public consciousness as the epitome of global success, just as the TV age began.

Since 1970, Brazil has won only twice more, in 1994 and 2002. Four other international teams have matched that total in the same time span (France in 1998 and 2018, Italy in 1982 and 2006, Argentina in 1978, 1986, and 2022, and Germany in 1974, 1990, and 2014). The modern age of football has seen greater successes not only for Western Europe but Brazil’s bitter rivals Argentina, who boast a population around five times smaller than Brazil’s. In fact, Brazil has not even been to the most finals in World Cups, with Germany’s eight finals eclipsing their seven. Yet Brazil is still seen as the golden boy, heading into nearly every tournament as one of the favourites.

Looking at the Copa America, South America’s continental competition, only crystallises the gap between reality and perception. Argentina and Uruguay share the record for the most times a team has lifted the cup, with fifteen each. Brazil is languishing behind on nine titles, and five of those were won with home advantage as they hosted the tournament. Uruguay has a population around 60 times smaller than Brazil’s, yet has more than matched them on the continental stage.

But Brazilians not only demand World Cup titles but revenge. They desire a World Cup title won at home. Brazil has hosted the tournament twice and both times their elimination brought an inquiry of biblical proportions and genuine harm to the country socially and politically. In 1950, Brazil reached the final round, requiring only a draw in front of a record 174,000 fans at their own Maracana Stadium against Uruguay to lift the Jules Rimet trophy for the first time. Newspapers had already claimed victory, such was the confidence the country had in their team. But at 79th minute winner from Alcides Ghiggia snatched the cup away. The magnitude of Ghiggia’s goal is nearly impossible to overstate. It resulted in a change in the strip from yellow to white for the Brazilian national team, on top of being the catalyst for far-right activism and racism, because some journalists painted Brazil’s black players as the scapegoats for the final loss. Not to mention the period of national mourning for the lost World Cup crown.

The magnitude of [Alcides] Ghiggia’s goal is nearly impossible to overstate.

Brazil hosted the World Cup again in 2014. Having battled their way to the semi-finals, they were dismantled by Germany 7-1 in a game most readers will be familiar with. This reignited a wave of national shame with the same sentiment as in 1950; a feeling that has been dubbed ‘Maracanaço’ after the stadium in which Uruguay defeated Brazil back in 1950. These ignominious defeats will never be forgotten by Brazil’s 214 million football mad fans, and yet they will never be fully satisfied, no matter how many World Cups they win, until they regain their national pride at a home tournament.

In addition to their specific expectations, Brazil is a team on the wane. As obvious as it may seem, it is key to note that Brazilian teams of the past have benefited enormously from the incredible players the country has produced. The small balls and narrow favela streets cultivated unique skillsets that encouraged flair and close control, traits synonymous with the team. However, football has been globalized and monetized immensely since the turn of the millennium.

Tactics and styles were once varied across countries, yet they have been gradually homogenised due to globalisation. Increased communication across large distances and open migration have led to the spreading of footballing ideas, resulting in countries’ styles becoming nearly indistinguishable from each other. In addition, the use of statistics and data analysis has been popularized in football, with every team seeking to exploit any potential benefit from this. This has also contributed to the amalgamation of styles into the most concise and economical way to produce output, in the currency of goals or points. Brazil’s unique style has been integrated into western European football culture as well as elsewhere – flair players and diminutive players have become more commonplace. However, the reverse is also true. Western Europe’s fanatically structured systems, functional roles, and sweeper keepers have seeped into Brazilian football. Brazil has gradually lost the uniqueness that made them so famous.

Their defeat to Croatia in the 2022 World Cup quarterfinals exemplifies how the increasing number of competitive teams spells doom for Brazil.

Similarly, football is an incredibly rich industry and has only become more monetised as time passes. Whilst Brazil will always have its distinct image and history, more and more teams are becoming large assets to sporting brands such as Adidas or Nike. Asian football culture is booming thanks to the enormous population, so Brazil’s stake in global football is lessening. In addition to the rocky political situation and Brazil’s status as a developing nation, youth development and football facilities have fallen down the priority ladder for investment. Western European leagues have dominated South American leagues financially for decades, but now the rest of the world has an opportunity to overtake Brazil’s stagnating federation. Their defeat to Croatia in the 2022 World Cup quarterfinals exemplifies how the increasing number of competitive teams spells doom for Brazil. Moreover, with the introduction of a 48-team World Cup in 2026, more teams will have the opportunity to project their image to the world.

Brazil’s struggles at recent tournaments are no accident. The late 20th and early 21stst centuries have shown us a significant fall from grace for the Samba Stars. Brazil will continue to disappoint its many fans due to ailing comparative finances, a history of shame at home tournaments, and misconceptions about its dominance at past previous tournaments.

Image: Pexels.com

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