Brazil is about to kick off against Japan in the Confederations Cup on ESPN. The running narrative through, it feels like, the entire online soccer world is that this isn’t the same Brazil we’ve all come to know and fear in the past. This current Brazil team is either “too defensive” or “too European” or simply not as good as the ideal version of the Seleção people have in their minds. That halycon vision of Carlos Alberto finishing off one of the best goals of all time at the 1970 World Cup final in Mexico seem a long, loooooong time ago. Even the days of Romario bagging goals at the 1994 World Cup seems a lifetime ago.
What we do know is this, the joga bonito style popularized by Brazil through the years has, since 2008 given way to Spain’s tika-taka as the dominant force in the international game. Based on the European club season, it would appear Germany would be the next country in line for the throne once it comes time for Spain to abdicate.
Since winning the 2002 World Cup in Japan against Germany for their fifth title, Brazil has lost in the quarterfinals of the 2006 tournament thanks to a masterclass performance from Zinedine Zidane. In 2010 Brazil went out at the hands of the Netherlands thanks to a pair of goals by Wesley Sneijder and a dreadful day from Felipe Melo.
Brazil, as hosts of the 2014 tournament, didn’t have to qualify for the World Cup and have only won two of their seven matches this year heading into the Confederations Cup.
A good question to ask yourself if you’re a soccer fan is this simple query: who is the best Brazilian player right now?
You’d probably say PSG defender Thiago Silva. Maybe you’re a dyed in the wool Neymar guy, whom a large segment of the Brazilian population have pinned their hopes on. In his first season at Chelsea Oscar showed flashes of brilliance, but he’s still young and not in that caliber of “best” player, is he? It probably takes some time before you get to an outright goalscorer, like when Ronaldo was at his full pomp. (More specific question: who is Brazil’s best striker at the moment? I don’t have a good answer for that myself.)
On top of that, the last Brazilian player to win FIFA Player of the Year was Kaka in 2007. He’s also the last Brazilian to finish in the top three in the voting. That’s not a barometer for Brazilian soccer as a whole, but eye-catching considering how many great players the country has continually produced.
For whatever the reason, the Brazilian national team doesn’t feel like the unstoppable force it did a decade ago. Don’t count them out next summer on homesoil, but they’re anything but a lock.