Brazil has now played four games at the 2014 World Cup. And still, the world waits for the nation of Pele, Ronaldo and countless other legends to stamp its customary level of dominance on an opponent.
With the biggest moments of this year’s tourney yet to unfold, it’s becoming clear Brazil probably won’t.
Right now, none of that matters as Brazilians celebrate their Round of 16 win over Chile Saturday afternoon into the early morning hours of Sunday. Eventually, reality eventually will set in. And that reality is that coach Luiz Felipe Scolari’s team is deeply flawed.
Most folks took last year’s rampage through the Confederations Cup as a sign Brazil would be locked and loaded for the World Cup. Simply put, the Brazilians have fallen far short of that kind of form.
The first signs came against Croatia in the opener when a dubious penalty-kick awarded through the flop of Fred allowed Brazil to claim three points. Then came a better performance against Mexico in which Neymar and company failed to find the net in a 0-0 draw. To top off the group stage, Brazil eased past a mediocre Cameroon squad 4-1 despite surrendering multiple scoring opportunities to the Indomitable Lions.
On Saturday, Brazil got off to a fast start with David Luiz converting a corner kick for a 1-0 advantage in the 18th minute. From there, past Brazilian teams would have stamped opponents Chile into oblivion, winning by perhaps a two- or three-goal margin.
Not this Brazilian edition. Instead, a careless play from Hulk allowed Alexis Sanchez to even matters in the 32nd minute and from there, the contest turned to defense for the balance of 70 minutes.
Finally, after a gut-wrenching second half and extra session that featured tired legs and minds, two posts ultimately saved Brazil. The first, coming off the right boot of Mauricio Pinilla, occurred in the final seconds of overtime. The second, and most painful for the Chileans, came when Gonzalo Jara’s scorched penalty bounded hard off the inside post, ending the resulting shoot-out and allowing the Brazilians to play on.
The biggest concerns for Brazilians likely will surround a listless second half in which Chile looked far more composed and determined. Passes were off, attacking runs were missing and Neymar, who has at times carried Brazil during this tournament, almost completely disappeared.
In overtime, Brazil awoke enough to create some danger around Claudio Bravo’s goal. Nevertheless, a collective sigh of relief from the assembled crowd within Estadio Mineiro seemed more appropriate than a celebration in the aftermath of their countrymen’s shoot-out win.
Granted, the Chileans played a large role in Brazil’s lackluster performance. They were tight defensively and Bravo was excellent down the stretch.
But this is Brazil, a country of 200 million that critiques not only final scores but style points. And this team sorely lacks in style points.
Other than Neymar, there is a dearth of playmakers. Fred has been subpar and Hulk, who flashes brilliance at times, has been inconsistent at best. Defensively, large gaps often pop up and other teams’ forwards have taken advantage in each of the team’s four games at the World Cup.
To this point, Brazil has been able to get away with such miscues and still advance. The time is coming when that won’t be good enough however. Pressure is building and the stakes are only going to get higher.
Of course, Brazil will still be considered the favorite in many people’s eyes. After all, the national side hasn’t dropped a competitive home contest since 1975.
The time to fear this Brazil team has long passed however. Brazilians better buckle up for some more nail-biting moments in coming days. It’s obvious nothing will come easy from here on out.