Expectation is a strange beast. When managed well, it can spur teams on; when allowed to grow unchecked, it can be a yoke around their necks. In Brazilian football, the default level of expectation is "sky high". Sometimes this is due simply to excitement; sometimes the clumsy hand of partisanship is at work. Either way, no one feels the breath down the backs of their necks more than football managers in Brazil. You're the coach of a modest, bottom-of-the-table club that LOST to a title contender?! Here's your P45. You lost two games out of six despite half your first team being injured and having no budget to replace them? On your bike.
Luiz Felipe Scolari is not unaccustomed to lofty expectations. He's probably had a tour of one of Roman Abramovich's mansions/boats/oil fields, after all. When he was reappointed Brazil manager in November, he knew exactly what he was letting himself in for.
Brazil host the World Cup in 18 months' time. The last time they hosted a World Cup, this happened. The country cried tears - of opportunity missed and of innocence lost. The defeat to Uruguay is still a black cloud over the country's sporting landscape. The only thing that could possibly banish memories of the Maracanazo would be a Maracanaço - anything else will be salt in old wounds.
Scolari has inherited a Brazil side that was improving under Mano Menezes - but too slowly for impatient fans and officials. While Menezes' commitment to overseeing a generational change was rightly lauded, performances - particularly in the Copa America and the 2012 Olympics - were deemed not to be up to scratch. Felipão, in the eyes of many, offers something Menezes doesn't: he is, simply put, a winner. Ignore his travails at club level, goes the argument; Scolari just has that knack. The entry under '2002' on his CV screams louder than a thousand Menezes tactical pronouncements ever could.
It remains to be seen whether that will be enough. Wednesday's loss to England certainly highlighted the enormity of the task at hand. Brazil looked disorganised and muted in attack, while Neymar struggled to impress commentators seemingly desperate to prescribe another case of terminal Zlatanitis. Even the seleção's goal owed more to the generosity of their hosts than to any prolonged attacking verve.
While it would be folly to read too much into the game (particularly given that many of Brazil's domestic-based players are far from full fitness), questions have been asked over Scolari's maiden selection. While Luís Fabiano and Ronaldinho both enjoyed fine seasons in 2012, their time with the Verde-Amarela has surely passed. The former was marshalled easily by Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling, while Ronaldinho trundled through the game as though it were a guided tour of a model train musuem. Their shortcomings went some way to explaining Neymar's poor showing: the Santos forward was forced to stretch the play to compensate for their lack of movement, and tried to go it alone in the absence of any real link-up play.
Where, though, are the alternatives? One man conspicuous by his absence was Kaká, whose nascent relationship with Neymar and Oscar had looked so promising in Menezes' final games in charge. Scolari would do well to rethink that one in the coming weeks, particularly in light of how his veteran playmaker of choice performed on the night. Hernanes may have played if not for concussion, while Thiago Silva was out injured, but elsewhere options are few and far between.
This is the real problem for Brazil. There are a a handful young players with enormous ability but limited experience of football at the highest level. There are a handful of experienced players who are not producing the performances of which they were once capable. And inbetween those bookends? Not a great deal; history seems to have played a cruel joke on the seleção just at their time of need. This, of course, is the fault neither of Menezes nor Scolari. But if the latter can't muster something special, more tears are going to be shed next year.
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