Brazil still battling the ghosts of '82
They say people only ever remember the winners. They can say it all they like -- it doesn't make it true, especially when it comes to soccer.
The game is known for its simplicity. But such simplicity hides myriad complexities. Think of the options available to a player receiving the ball: He can pass it forwards, backward, sideways, long or short, in the air or along the ground, using his right foot or his left. He doesn't even have to pass -- he can go for a dribble.
Such a range of choices means that soccer is a game that can be interpreted in different ways. It's one of the big explanations for soccer's global success -- like a universal language spoken with different accents, it gives the chance for diverse cultures to express their own identities through their approach to the game.
If it were just numbers, then, soccer would be bingo, and never would have become such a worldwide phenomenon. All this means that soccer is about much more than what you do. How you do it is also of fundamental importance.
The Brazil team at the 1982 World Cup did it in style. The Brazilians didn't win the competition. They didn't come second, or even in the top four. But they played matches of extraordinary beauty that have never been forgotten.
One of those who was clearly paying attention was
It's an implied criticism of the direction that Brazilian soccer has taken in recent times. The failure of the '82 side to win the World Cup cut deep. Coach
It's not easy, though, to escape from your own tradition. The '82 team still casts a shadow. Even in moments of triumph, the press reaction, both home and abroad, has frequently included the line, "not a typical Brazilian team."
Shortly before taking over as Brazil coach, Dunga gave an interview in which he described the '82 side as "specialists in losing." They lost in '82, he said, they lost in '86 -- they couldn't even win a mini-World Cup staged by Uruguay in '80 to commemorate the Cup's 50-year anniversary. Brazil reached the final of that mini-World Cup before losing to the hosts 2-1.
That game was yet another frustration Brazil had to endure against Uruguay in Montevideo's historic Centenario stadium. Brazil had won friendlies there -- a famous victory in '32 changed the course of soccer history -- but never a major competitive match, like a World Cup qualifier or a Copa América clash.
That is, until Saturday. Dunga's men brought that hoodoo to an end with a score line that could hardly have been more emphatic: Brazil 4, Uruguay 0. Another triumph for pragmatism. The corner count was 15-2 in Uruguay's favor, but Dunga's Brazil gave the latest in a line of demonstrations of its counterattacking prowess. Where the fondly remembered boys of '82 failed, the current, much-maligned team has succeeded.
Perhaps. Like most comparisons, this one is unfair. The '82 team had
There's no doubt the standard of Brazilian goalkeeping has improved by leaps in bounds over the last 20 years. Back in '82, poor Peres didn't inspire a great deal of confidence. It's certainly arguable that if Brazil had been able to count on a Júlio César back then, it might have won the World Cup, and the whole beauty vs. efficiency debate may never have erupted.
Certainly Spain, at the national-team level, and Barcelona, at club level, have shown there isn't necessarily a contradiction between the two concepts. A team can base its game on possession in the opponent's half, on a constant exchange of passes, with small, talented footballers instead of giant athletes -- and still can win.
Indeed, it can win because of these very characteristics. There will always be a place in the game's pantheon for those sides that stir the blood but still fall short of winning the silverware. But beauty and efficiency need not be in opposition.