2014 World Cup: Brazil reaped what it had sown

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - JUNE 28:  Head coach Luiz Felipe Scolari of Brazil celebrates with Neymar after defeating Chile in a penalty shootout during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil round of 16 match between Brazil and Chile at Estadio Mineirao on June 28, 2014 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL – JUNE 28: Head coach Luiz Felipe Scolari of Brazil celebrates with Neymar after defeating Chile in a penalty shootout during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil round of 16 match between Brazil and Chile at Estadio Mineirao on June 28, 2014 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

After the cruel injury that keeps Neymar out of the rest of the World Cup, Brazil has become a country in mourning – and also a country in denial.

Camilo Zuniga, the Colombian right back whose ill judged lunge caused Neymar’s injury, has become public enemy number one.

As I write, Brazil’s most famous football commentator has just described it as one of the most violent moments in the history of the game. The Brazilian FA is in the process of asking FIFA to give Zuniga a huge ban.

At this time, with the poster boy out of action, reality has been thrown out of the window.

Saturday’s edition of ’Lance!’ – Brazil’s usually excellent sports daily – makes a sole passing reference to the wider context. “Curiously,” says one article, “Brazil committed more fouls than Colombia – 31 against 23.” This fact is presented as if it were some statistical quirk. But really it is part of a plan.

It is all very well for Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari to complain that Neymar was being hunted on the field. The hunting started from his side. This is an unfortunate part of the contemporary Brazilian game. It is called tactical fouling. Its aim is to prevent the opposition gaining any fluency in possession by repeatedly interrupting the game with fouls.

I well recall being in the stadium for the final of the 2007 Copa America. Brazil, with an understrength side, pulled off a surprise by beating Argentina 3-0. It was a clinical counter-attacking triumph. But, up against a team with the likes of Riquelme, Veron and a young Lionel Messi, Brazil opened up its tool box and committed around 45 fouls.

Last year’s Confederations Cup final against Spain was another resounding 3-0 win for Brazil, with some superb Neymar moments along the way. But the Spanish were entitled to a little grumble about the persistent fouling by their opponent – Brazil committed 26 fouls in that game, five fewer than its total against Colombia.

If any player was hunted on the field at Fortaleza last Saturday (AEST) it was the number ten of Colombia, James Rodriguez. Again and again he was on the end of vicious fouls from Brazil midfielder Fernandinho, who appeared to be acting to a plan to intimidate his opponent out of the game. And the referee did nothing.

The danger signs were there in Brazil’s previous match against Chile. Right at the start Fernandinho flew into a late tackle. It was a clear yellow card. None was awarded.

This leniency has been so prevalent that we can only assume the referees are acting on some kind of FIFA directive.

It would seem that the world governing body, understandably, does not want to see too many players suspended, which might devalue its showpiece competition. Even Lionel Messi has been fortunate to escape punishment for the occasional petulant challenge or reaction.

This style of refereeing is very dangerous in a game involving two South American sides. After Fernandinho had got away with his bad tackle against Chile, it was clear that Chile would react.

If Brazil was going to have a free one, then so would Chile – and it was also clear who the victim would be. Charles Aranguiz slid in with a tackle on Neymar which reduced the effectiveness of the young Brazilian in the match and briefly threatened his participation against Colombia.

It is very sad for him, for his team and for the tournament. But the sad, and surely unavoidable truth is that Brazil is reaping what it has sown – and as a proud owner of 1982 Brazil shirt, that is a desperately despondent sentence to be forced to write.

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