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More than a day later and the overpowering sense is still one of disbelief.

Marcelo and Maicon looked lost on the flanks, David Luiz’s inability to concentrate was so bad it was almost laughable, Dante was a boy against men, and midfielder Fernandinho, the worst of the lot, put in one of the most inept displays I’ve ever seen from a Brazil player (and I saw Rafael Scheidt).

But I am not a coach and as a long-time resident of Brazil I see the psychological and social reasons for this catastrophic defeat more clearly than I see the football ones.

One of the explanations for this loss is that Brazil is a country where emotion always trumps reason and the already disastrous defeat seems worse than it is because Brazil’s manager, and as a consequence many of the fans, failed to show, or even to understand, that humility is a key factor not just in sport but in life.

Brazil were already under huge pressure to win this game but they turned up with their minds elsewhere, worrying about Neymar.

That is understandable for fans, who felt the loss of their best player. But it’s unacceptable for a team of multi-millionaire footballers who have all excelled in their own right.

All of the players and even the 60-something manager, entered the stadium wearing baseball caps with the hashtag #ForçaNeymar, or #StrengthNeymar.

Captain for the day David Luiz held up Neymar’s No. 10 shirt as the teams lined up for the national anthem. It was an admirable gesture but an infantile one just moments before the biggest game of his life.

While the Germans were concentrated on the task at hand, the Brazilians were fretting over their friend and of what might have been. Their minds were elsewhere. They lacked focus. (As Dante admits in this piece.)

Any hammering at home is disastrous but this one was especially bad because it was so completely and utterly unexpected. Brazil had never lost seven goals in 84 years of the World Cup.

And yet defeat happens. Only clowns espouse that truculent line so beloved of American coaches (and Felipão) that second place is the first loser. We all lose every day, at work, in love, in traffic, in the race to get to the front of the supermarket queue. We lose, therefore we are.

Many of Brazil’s fans, egged on by Felipão, who has for more than a year been repeating that “We will win the World Cup, there is no other option” never wanted to consider the idea of failure.

(See this astute story on the national trait of promising too much and failing to deliver.)

Brazilians are eternal optimists and they believe. More worryingly, they believe that if you believe then everything will work out. But that’s not true and faith is often misplaced or blind.

And yet there were good reasons to consider Brazil favourites. They are only team to win the World Cup five times, playing at home, in a continent where no European nation has ever won the trophy.

What Brazil lacked was humility and they paid a price for it. It is harder to humiliate the humble.

A little less arrogance from Felipão and the fans and pundits who still think that Brazil is the world’s dominant football power, who have refused to understand that this is not 1970 or even 1982, who don’t know that the game has moved on and Brazil still produces craques in spite of not because of their clubs and coaches, would have saved a lot of heartache. “We want to win, but there are other good teams in this competition,” would have been a more honest and more humble message than “We win this and we go to heaven or we lose it and we go to hell,” as CBF president Jose Maria Marin said.

Life is rarely about all or nothing, whatever Nike tells us.

(Unfortunately, the delusions continue, with Felipão saying Brazil will bounce back, rather than acknowledging root and branch changes need to be made. Predictably, the people who run the CBF have yet to appear in public.)

The dust will settle and Brazil will examine the reasons for this defeat. I sincerely hope a good look at emotion vs. reason and humility vs. arrogance will be part of the debate.

Confidence is necessary at the highest levels of sport and emotion is a fundamental quality and one of which Brazilians can be proud. But it had no place on the football pitch on Tuesday, and if it did, it should have been tempered with a large dose of modesty.

Brazil may still have lost to an excellent German side. But the loss need not have hurt quite so much.

FelipaoLuiz Felipe Scolari just announced his squad for next month’s Confederations Cup and it’s characterized by brave choices and an onus on youth.

Both Ronaldinho and Kaka have been left out, with the former omission particularly surprising given that he has been in sparkling form with his club Atletico Mineiro.

I think he’s right to leave him out because Ronaldinho has failed to show not just his club form in a yellow jersey, but also failed to show the same appetite for the game. However, if Brazil don’t do well, the screams for his return will become deafening.

The big surprise is the inclusion of Bernard, another Atletico Mineiro player. The tiny attacking midfielder has been one of the stars of Atletico’s Libertadores campaign.

I think his inclusion is as much about preparing him for the World Cup than it is about the Confederations competition. Felipao pointedly stated that he wants to give Bernard the experience of a big tournament before next year.

Lucas, now of Paris Saint-Germain, and Chelsea’s Oscar, are two other youngsters called up.

Among the other brave decisions are the exclusion of Ramires, which I think is a mistake, and the inclusion of Leandro Damiao. The internacional striker has lost some of his gloss recently but Felipao likes an old style No. 9 and Leandro Damiao fits that bill.

Brazil still look weak at the full back positions, especially if Marcelo and Daniel Alves get injured. I don’t rate either of them too highly and Marcelo is always liable to lose the rag.

Brazil play England in a friendly at the Maracana on June 2 and then face France in Porto Alegre a week later. The Confederations Cup kicks off on June 15.

The full squad, from the CBF home page:


Julio Cesar – Queens P. Rangers

Diego Cavlaieri – Fluminense

Jefferson – Botafogo



Thiago Silva – Paris Saint Germain

Rever – Atlético Mineiro

David Luiz – Chelsea

Dante – Bayern de Munique



Daniel Alves – Barcelona

Jean – Fluminense

Marcelo – Real Madrid

Filipe Luís – Atlético de Madrid



Fernando – Grêmio

Hernanes – Lazio

Luiz Gustavo – Bayern de Munique

Paulinho – Corinthians


Meia atacantes/atacantes

Jadson – São Paulo

Oscar – Chelsea

Lucas – Paris Saint Germain

Hulk – Zenit

Bernard – Atlético Mineiro

Leandro Damião – Internacional

Fred – Fluminense

Neymar – Santos

Deco, delighted he didn’t have to play against me, even on a concrete four-a-side pitch

In December I spent a week in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro interviewing players, directors, economists, marketing experts and media personalities for a Time magazine article.

The piece, written by my colleague Bobby Ghosh, came out yesterday to much consternation, thanks largely to a misleading headline that declared Neymar The Next Pele. (See more on that controversy here.)

Here’s five interesting things that never made it into the piece:

–          Botafogo have someone standing at the same of the pitch with team shirts to give to players who are going to be interviewed. At the end of the game or at half time the players have either swapped their shirts or taken them off because they are sweating and club officials realized sponsors logos weren’t appearing when they were being grilled on TV. The officials now make sure the players are suitably attired.

–          Brazilian clubs exaggerate the number of fans they have, or at least what constitutes a fan. Flamengo and Corinthians claim they have more than 30 million fans each and yet neither averages a crowd above 30,000. Only around 350,000 Brazilian fans are registered with their club’s socio-torcedor scheme, the closest thing Brazilians clubs have to season tickets. Clubs and sponsors have started a push to get more adherents through a deal that gives them discounts with major retailers such as SKY TV, Pepsi, Netshoes and Brahma. The target is to get 3.5 million fans signed as socio-torcedores.

–          Corinthians increased their revenue from 55 million reais in 2003 to 290 million reais in 2011 but marketing director Luis Paulo Rosenberg still believes the club has only scratched the surface of what is possible. “I am not saying we do everything right,” he told us. “But we stopped doing everything wrong and that was enough to multiply revenues by five or six.”

–          Santos have more fans in Sao Paulo  than in Santos, according to Stochos, a sports consultancy.  Their numbers show that 19.5 % of Santos fans live in the Baixada Santista, while 37.6 % live in the state capital. The number of young people who support Santos has increased greatly over the last few years, thanks largely, Stochos believes, due to the influence of Neymar.

–          Deco was lucky that he was late for his scheduled interview at the foundation for disadvantaged kids he set up in his home town of Indaiatuba. By turning up half an hour late he didn’t have to face me in the under 12-s four-a-side match. (Each team was allowed one over-age player). The former Barcelona and Chelsea midfielder would doubtlessly have struggled to contain my box-to-box running and overall stranglehold on midfield.

NeymarHere’s this week’s Time magazine with Neymar on the cover. The title is The Next Pelé and it is already getting flak.

That’s understandable. I’d have added a question mark. Neymar isn’t the next Pelé, certainly not yet.

As my friend, Brazilian football writer Fernando Duarte very reasonably pointed out, Neymar is just the first Neymar. No one can really hope to equal Pelé.

But there’s the clue to this week’s headline. Last year, Time did a cover piece on Barcelona’s Lionel Messi. The title that time around was just as controversial. It said Messi was “possibly the best of all time.”

Time want to sell magazines. They want people to talk about their story. There’s no surer way to make that happen than by calling Neymar the Next Pelé.


FIFA revealed its 10 candidates for Goal of the Year today. See quick versions of them all here:

That youtube link has only partial versions of the goals, such as Neymar’s spectacular dribbled goal against Inter, in which he takes the ball from his own half, beats four men then dinks it over the goalie.

The FIFA site has longer links to them all, and here’s Neymar’s.

The other goal that stand out for me is one I’d never seen before by Gaston Mealla of Nacional Potosi in Bolivia.  I had to watch it three or four times to really see what he did.

And then there’s Messi’s Goal against Brazil from June or July. That one to me has to be the contender, partly because of the environment and the opposition (although what were the midfielders doing??!?).

To me, the real great goals embody individual brilliance and teamwork. In the words of the Guardian’s Rob Smythe, “any hairy arsed chancer can get lucky from 30 yards.”

Having said that there are a few great strikes, including one from Olivia Jimenez of Mexico against Switzerland:

So, my three favourites, in no particular order: Neymar, Messi and Jimenez.

You can cast your vote HERE.

Fluminense stars Fred and Diego Cavalieri got a just reward for their fine performances in helping Flu win the Brazilian league today by being called up to the Brazil team to face Argentina at La Bombonera on Nov. 21.

The match was hastily rescheduled after last month’s encounter was postponed because of a floodlight failure.

Only home-based players are chosen for the game and the Fluminense pair are not the only surprises in Mano Menezes’ squad.

Botafogo midfielder Fellype Gabriel wins a first call up, as does Durval, Santos’ 32-year old centre half.

The squad contains five players from Fluminense, four from Atletico Mineiro and three each from Corinthians and Santos.

The full list

Goalkeepers: Jefferson (Botafogo) and Diego Cavalieri (Fluminense).

Full backs: Marcos Rocha (Atlético-MG), Lucas Marques (Botafogo), Carlinhos (Fluminense) and Fábio Santos (Corinthians).

Central defenders: Réver (Atlético-MG), Durval (Santos) and Leonardo Silva (Atlético-MG).

Defensive midfielders: Arouca (Santos), Paulinho (Corinthians), Jean (Fluminense) and Ralf (Corinthians).

Attacking midfielders: Thiago Neves (Fluminense), Bernard (Atlético-MG) and Fellype Gabriel (Botafogo).

Forwards: Neymar (Santos), Leandro Damião (Internacional) and Fred (Fluminense)


Neymar scored three times at Cruzeiro over the weekend and the home fans chanted his name as their own team went down 4-0.

Part of the reason was disgust with their own team – the fans also chanted “Wee Team, Wee Team” at their own players – but it’s nevertheless highly unusual to see partisan supporters so openly praising a rival, even one as gifted as the Santos superstar.

I’ve been to literally hundreds of football matches to support my team and I can’t remember ever chanting the name of an opponent. Applauding their brilliance, perhaps, but even that happened only on very rare occasions.

In fact, I can only think of two players before now who were worthy of such an honour. Garrincha, when he played for Botafogo back in the 1950s, and Ronaldinho Gaucho, when he was at the top of his game for Barcelona.

That puts Neymar’s performance into context.

Curiously, I’ve seen him play much better than he did on Saturday.

But take a look for yourself, here’s the goals:


Kaka, expected to return to the Brazil side today against Iraq

Brazil play Iraq today in yet another meaningless friendly far from their own fans.

Holding international matches in neutral countries is part of a growing trend.

An American editor asked me why this was an issue.

I explained that national sides used to play in their national stadiums against other national teams in front of their own fans.

Maybe I am old, but I think that’s correct.  A national side shouldn’t be heading off to play at the home of the highest bidder or where it can make most money.

I wrote about this in detail here for Reuters.

While doing so I realised the trend was worse than I imagined.

I discovered that Ireland played Italy in Belgium and Oman in England. England played Brazil in Qatar and Italy in Switzerland. Argentina played Nigeria in Bangladesh and Venezuela in India. Argentina versus Venezuela in Calcutta!!!

This is a worrying issue for most teams but what makes it worse for Brazil, as opposed to European sides, is that the CBF does not halt the Brazilian league when the national side plays friendlies.

So players are taken from their clubs at the most important time of the season to fly 12 hours to play third-rate opposition in a meaningless game. It makes a mockery of the Brazilian championship. There were important games last night and Sao Paulo, Vasco, Botafogo and Santos all had to play without one of their top players.

Striker Neymar, for example, has played 15 times for Santos in the league this season. He has already played nine times for Brazil and is expected to feature against both Iraq today and against Japan in Wroclaw on Oct. 16.

It’s a ridiculous situation. Something needs to change and I don’t just mean adjusting the Brazilian league schedule to run at the same time as leagues in Europe.

Here I go being old again, but national sides shouldn’t be available for hire.

Great Britain plays its first football match for 40 years tonight and it couldn’t be harder.

They take on Brazil at the Riverside stadium in Middlesbrough.

But if the British think they have it tough – and there is a huge controversy over the very existence of a British soccer team, as is explained here, here and most interestingly here – then the Brazilians have it tougher.

As I say in my Reuters story:

There is much more at stake for their opponents Brazil, who go into the Olympics looking not only for their first Olympic title but also seeking to find the team and the style of play that will bring them success when they host the World Cup in 2014.

Brazil has won world titles at every level and is the only country to lift the World Cup five times. But it has never won Olympic gold and most Brazilians would gladly pass up victories in sailing or judo or volleyball if it meant they could finally get their hands on the elusive soccer medal.

For coach Mano Menezes, winning in London is only part of the deal. He must also shape and prepare his team to win the World Cup on home soil, which will be no easy feat given that they recently dropped to their lowest FIFA ranking ever – 11th – and that they will be under huge pressure from their home fans.

Making their task even harder is the lack of competition between now and 2014. The Olympics are the last competitive fixtures that Brazil will play for two years, unless you count the relatively relaxed Confederations Cup, and I don’t.

Menezes, moreover, doesn’t have to just do well in the Olympics. He has to do well and in style.

His task is to get Brazil playing a more exciting football, something resembling their own futebol arte of the past, as well as the European possession game that Spain (and latterly Germany) have made so successful.

The former Corinthians coach has introduced a more attacking style of play than his predecessor Dunga, and they appear to be learning from the Europeans who press higher up the pitch and value possession.

He has a squad full of youngsters who would walk into almost any team in the world. Neymar, Paulo Henrique Ganso, Alexandre Pato, Oscar and Leandro Damiao are joined by over-age picks Hulk, Marcelo, and Thiago Silva, who last week signed for Paris St. Germain for a reported 42 million Euros.

Most of them will start the match against Great Britain tonight.

It is one more step on a long journey they hope will end with them lifting the World Cup at the Maracana stadium two years from now. The Olympics will give us some sense of how likely that is.

Two of Brazil’s biggest football clubs presented newly hired foreign imports on Saturday, in the latest manifestation of the newfound spending power that has recently helped keep some of the country’s own talent from moving abroad.

That’s how I started this piece for Reuters this weekend.

From Internacional web site

The stars in question were Clarence Seedorf, who left AC Milan and signed for Botafogo, and Diego Forlan (right) who left one Internazionale, of Italy, and signed for another Internacional, of Porto Alegre.

Both are big names, even if they are getting on.

Seedorf, 36, has won four Champions League titles with three clubs, and Uruguayan Forlan, 33, was voted the best player at the 2010 World Cup.

The deals were unusual because Brazilian clubs rarely sign foreign stars from European clubs. They often repatriate their own ageing stars when their careers in Europe are over, with Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldinho Gaucho and Luis Fabiano, among those who’ve returned home recently.

Now, however (as my story goes on to say)…

Growing wealth among Brazilian teams has also enabled them to keep young talents like Neymar, the ascendant Santos forward, from following their predecessors across the Atlantic, much less to developing leagues in China, the United States, or the Middle East.

A strong Brazilian currency, and lucrative sponsorship deals, mean many young Brazilian players can earn as much as they would by making the move to Europe.

With more than 30 million Brazilians having entered the middle classes over the past decade, advertisers are investing heavily in sponsorships. Television companies this year more than doubled the amount they pay clubs for broadcast rights.

So the arrival of Forlan and Seedorf marks a new willingness by Brazilian clubs to invest in banner players.

However, it should be noted that neither of the two teams paid transfer fees. That is still a deal too far for Brazil’s heavily indebted clubs.

And if it were not for personal reasons, neither Forlan nor Seedorf would likely even consider coming to Brazil.

Forlan’s new club is based in Porto Alegre, just a 90-minute flight from his home city of Montevideo. And Seedorf, who is married to a Brazilian, already owns property in Rio. Those were key factors in the deals.

Brazilian clubs are also going to have to keep selling their young prospects when the right offer comes in. Forlan’s arrival has prompted speculation that Internacional could sell Leandro Damiao or Oscar to teams abroad. Spurs are said to be among those most interested.

Whatever happens, fans were out in force in Rio and Porto Alegre to welcome their new heroes.

When Forlan arrived in the southern city of Porto Alegre on Saturday, 3,000 fans turned out to greet him.

Seedorf, meanwhile, was flown to Rio de Janeiro’s Engenhão stadium in a helicopter before being presented with his No. 10 shirt ahead of the game against Bahia, which Botafogo won 3-0. A crowd of 20,000 people turned up, three times the number present at Botafogo’s last home game against Ponte Preta.

It remains to be seen if these deals will be followed by others. There may be one or two.

But I doubt it is the start of a real trend. The quality of life in Brazil is still to precarious for that to happen. There has to be a very good reason for a European star to swap life in Rome or Paris or even Manchester, for Rio or Sao Paulo.

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