Brazil head for the airport again

World Cup 2018 Russia

The day Brazil are knocked out a World Cup always feels like a big event.

Despite the fact the Seleção have not won it since 2002 and were utterly humiliated by Germany four years ago, one still feels the green and gold belong at the core of this competition.

Growing up Brazil were still the wonder team we all aspired to be like. To be Brazilian meant to be endowed with innately divine feet in control of the sphere, to be born into a rich tradition of highly-skilled football.

Never mind that for more than 20 years of my youth Brazil were not world champions, there were always 'the best'.

In this wide-open World Cup of falling favourites, Tite's team are only the latest casualty but that means another 20 year gap between Brazilian World Cup wins will have opened up by 2022. What will it take for the world to stop considering Brazilians the best at football?

The iconography of Pele, Zico, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, that goal by Carlos Alberto and the production line of talented ball-players is just so vivid that the legend of Brazil goes on.


Recent history has facts to counter this mythology. They ran aground in the quarter-final in 2006 (beaten by France) and in 2010 (by the Netherlands) before their 7-1 humiliation in 2014.

This year's elimination was far more honourable but since it came at an earlier stage of the competition should go down as a regression.

Finishing top of the CONMEBOL qualifiers and entering the 2018 World Cup as one of the favourites (FIFA ranked 2nd behind Germany) showed an encouraging recovery from the nightmare of Belo Horizonte four years ago, but once more Brazil's dreams are in ruins.

To be fair, last night in Kazan they enjoyed no luck.

They had 27 shots to Belgium's nine yet Fernandinho scored an own goal. Thiago Silva hit the post, Gabriel Jesus had a strong penalty call dismissed and the rebounds just did not fall for them.

Philippe Coutinho missed two chances and Neymar had two shots saved by Belgium's elongated and  in-form goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

Brazil dominated the second half and in substitute Douglas Costa had a rip-roaring right-winger: It could well have been a different outcome.

Yet Belgium were a formidable opponent, finally confirming their squad of stars can cut it against the best opposition. Roberto Martinez had plenty of domestic criticism going into this tournament but is shutting up his naysayers in Russia.

His switch to a 4-4-2 last night paid off as did his team's compact shape with Marouane Fellaini the apex of the resistance. There was no way they were going to let Brazil's ball wizards play in their box.

In attack, their trident of Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, surely the finest in the tournament, were red hot. Lukaku switched from the wing to the middle and charged like a Pamplona bull all night, almost impossible to stop.

Marcelo might be guilty of having stood off De Bruyne as he shaped to unleash his 31st minute rocket, when any Premier League defender would have known the Manchester City star's habits.

Brazil also let Belgium exploit their right side, concentrating their plays on the left-sided triangle of Marcelo, Neymar and Coutinho. Would defensive midfield rock Casemiro have made the difference?

Like England they lacked a playmaker. Only when Coutinho chipped over the back four for Renato Augusto to score as Lionel Messi does for Luis Suarez at Barcelona, did we see true creativity. But otherwise Coutinho was awry with his shots and jaded by his box to box tasks.

Oh for a Luka Modric or Christian Eriksen in midfield.

Belgium steam on and gain revenge for being eliminated by Brazil in 2002 in a game they might have won.

The top two sides left in the cup now meet in the semi-final: France play Belgium on Tuesday evening in St Petersburg. The Red Devils could be writing one of international football's greatest stories.

But when will we see Brazil win the World Cup again?

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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