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Dreams of a sixth World Cup title for Brazil were dashed yesterday as a completely dominant Germany humiliated the men in yellow. 7-1 is not only Brazil’s worst defeat ever, but also the second worst in the history of World Cups, only trumped by Sweden’s 8-0 against Cuba in the quarterfinals of 1938.

Muller opened up the scorecard for Germany in the tenth minute, then Miroslav Klose drilled home, becoming World Cup top scorer of all times with his 16 braces. What then followed at the Mineirão stadium was an utter disgrace: Brazil’s defence suffered a complete meltdown, allowing the German side another three goals in six minutes, making the score 5-0 with 28 minutes on the clock. We saw Germany cruise through the remainder of the game, adding two additional braces in the second half, before Oscar defined the end result in the dying minutes.
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There are explanations to the seemingly inexplicable. Emotional aspects come into the mix, the pressure on the squad, expectations. The collective blow of losing Neymar and the whole “play for him” sentimentalism that followed. Motivation and emotion, the us-against-the-world, defined as the “Família Scolari” approach – has worked on previous occasions. This time, it backfired.

Now, would yesterday have played out much differently with Neymar and Thiago Silva on the pitch? Not likely.

Brazil lost because of hubris, believing it could take Germany on as equals.

The German squad has been carefully crafted for years, with players moulded to fit like pieces in a machine. In comparison, the Brazilian “little canary” is young and unexperienced as a group. Unexperienced, chiefly because of the many different players that have been tested and discarded in the last few years.

Scolari’s relaxed attitude to training hasn’t helped: Brazil played Chile on a Friday, the players only going back to train on the Tuesday.

However, tactical errors must be considered the primary reason for yesterday’s disaster. As during earlier games, Brazil’s lack of a midfield was obvious. Against Chile and Colombia, Brazil suffered but pulled through. Against Germany, not strengthening the midfield equalled suicide. Penetrating Brazil’s defence with ease, it looked like the Germans were on a training session.

Who’s to blame? Primarily coach Scolari.

But we need to look further.
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Brazilian football has stagnated. Internally, externally. On and off the pitch. And this while maintaining an absurdly arrogant attitude. It’s time for Brazilian football to rethink itself, to reframe glories and values from the past into a modern context, a globalized perspective, humbly learning from others and implementing profound changes. At club level, in regard to legislation, financial transparency, the Federation, relationship with sponsors (in particular Rede Globo), match hours… The list could go on and on.

Change must also happen at player level, but not through “implementing”: something is lacking in terms of maturity and responsibility on an individual level. Something has been lost (or were never present) behind all the hairdos, gang style signs, instagraming, silly dance moves and everything else taking the focus away from football. Watching Brazilian TV these last few weeks, you wouldn’t believe the number of commercials featuring Scolari and Brazilian key players. Neither would you believe the easy access selected Brazilian entertainment TV has had to players and staff throughout the tournament.

Brazil needs to man up. Learn when it’s time for fun and when it’s not. Give and demand respect. In so many aspects; football being only one of them.

Brazil takes on either the Netherlands or Argentina in Saturday’s bronze match in Brasilia. In case of an all-out South America clash, FIFA has already signalled it will suspend the selling of alcoholic beverage at the Mané Garrincha stadium. Wisely so, if you ask me.

The World Cup, as a tournament, is a success. The path leading up to it has been a tragedy of wasted money and opportunities. As for the legacy? For Brazil? Let me get back to you on that one.

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With players back at Palmeiras after two weeks of holidays, Argentine Ricardo Gareca has officially been installed and is now exercising his coaching duties. Things have been going smooth these first couple of days, with a focus on low-intensity muscular training and the carrying out of some physical evaluations. Gareca is addressing all players by their names and the language barrier has apparently not been an issue.
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Defensive midfielder Tinga is not in the group commanded by Gareca: on loan at different clubs since 2012 – the last one being Avaí – Palmeiras has negotiated the players’ economic rights with Japanese club Jubilo Iwata, putting an end to Tinga’s four-year spell at Palmeiras.

mateusmullerAttending a request from Gareca, Palmeiras have promoted four players from the youth academy that will train with the first squad: defenders Léo Cunha and Mateus Müller, midfielder Juninho and striker Erik. These are all good names: Müller (pictured on your right) was on the Brazilian under 20 national squad that won the international “Panda” Cup. The group of four will join the rest of the squad this coming Monday, for the training period in the city of Atibaia, interior of the state of São Paulo. Gareca is known for keeping a close eye on the youth academy.

Palmeiras also continue scanning the transfer market for reinforcements. Argentine centre-back Fernando Tobio is said to have reached a verbal agreement with Palmeiras and is expected to sign a five-year contract in July. Forwards are also a priority, with former Boca Juniors striker Pablo Mouche reportedly close to signing. Both these players are on Gareca’s wish list; an invasion of hermanos, it seems.

— ooo —

The World Cup today features three clashes:

At the moment of writing, David is doing rather well against Goliath, Australia putting pressure on the Dutch and sustaining a 1-1 draw in group B.

At 7pm local time, the last game of the day features Cameroon and Croatia, both teams looking to bounce back from their initial defeat in Group A, where Brazil and Mexico sum four points each after yesterday’s goalless draw.

It’s however the game in the middle, at 4pm, that attracts the most attention: Chile take on current World Champions Spain, the latter desperately needing the three points after having lost in the opening round to van Persie, Robben and Co. At William Hill world cup betting, Chile is the natural underdog at 5 to 1, but if Palmeiras’ playmaker Valdivia finds the space for those precise cut-through passes while counter-attacking, the Spaniards might be in for an unpleasant surprise.

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For those of us nourishing fears or hopes in regard to massive protests during the 2014 World Cup, entering the fifth day of the tournament, indicators seem crystal clear: by all accounts, the World Cup has, so far, been nothing but a tremendous success. Eurosport.com suggests it’s on the course to be the greatest tournaments of all time, presenting its case in six arguments:

# Goals aplenty: after eight games the 2014 World Cup has more than double the number of goals – an average of 3.5 per game – as its predecessor at the same stage.

# Shock results: Netherlands 5-1 Spain, Uruguay 1-3 Costa Rica. Say no more.

# No draws: attacking mentality and tactics have taken the upper hand of this tournament. Or, as Rio Report puts it: “We’re not sure if teams can’t, or won’t, defend. But we’re not complaining.”

# Big names performing: Robben, van Persie, Neymar, Messi, Benzema, Balotelli…

# Location: it’s in Brazil. If that means nothing to you, go check your pulse.

# Word is spreading: and these things have a way of turning into self-fulfilling prophecy.

There’s truly nothing like the World Cup. People gathering from all over the planet for a month of intensive interaction and drama. You are swept away, either you want to or not. I’m football, more than ever. Already trying to imagine life post 13 July.

The downer of all this is that Brazil, once again, is getting off the hook. Brazil, here to be understood as the Government, Parliament, Institutions. Brazilians have a short memory when it comes to politics: a splendid World Cup, and all the small and large, dramatic and low-intensity disasters on the way will have little impact. As will the fact that Brazil has spent more on preparations [sic] than previous four host countries combined. Oh, the Legacy…

On different social media, I’ve already started to see messages like “Suck it up, FIFA. Never doubt Brazil!”. It’s exactly these kind of attitudes that make me wonder if Brazil will ever truly evolve.

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It’s underway, the 2014 World Cup.

And if it hadn’t been for the underlying tension in the air, it would’ve been amusing the way sports journalists, national coach Scolari and others yesterday repeated how pleased the Brazilians seemed to be and how much they supported the National Squad. “When Brazil scored, I could hear fireworks from outside. People celebrating, even outside the stadium”, an ESPN reporter marvelled from within the Itaqueirão. “If there’s ever been such a thing as paulistas not supporting the national squad, today we had the proof that it doesn’t exist”, Scolari stressed when initiating the post-game press conference. You see, Brazilians rooting for their team has become something not to be taken for granted. At least not in its totality.

dilmaopeningPresident Dilma Rousseff did not address the crowd in the stadium or declare the opening of the World Cup, but was still roundly booed on several occasions during the game. Even so, Brazil did indeed come to a halt yesterday, the nation tuning in to watch Brazil defeat Croatia 3-1 in a game filled with dubious calls from the referee.

Clashes between protesters and riot police took place in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Manaus, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza, Salvador and in the Federal District. Some 20 persons were injured – among these four journalists – and close to 70 persons arrested. Police reportedly put rubber bullets and teargas to good use.

So far, the tournament has been characterised by the good-to-excellent quality of the games, combined with bad-to-disastrous refereeing: Croats were furious after yesterday’s defeat and Mexico would have been even madder had they not beaten Cameroon 1-0, after having two legit goals disallowed. While FIFA insists on not letting technology in…

The Netherlands crushed Spain 5-1. At halftime, Chile are beating Australia 2-1, with one brace from Valdivia. Valdivia is set to leave Palmeiras after the World Cup, so I guess the better he performs, the higher the price tag, which equals more money for Palmeiras. Thus, with all my heart: good luck, Valdivia! May you play your best football ever in the coming four weeks.

Tomorrow, the highlight is England vs. Italy in Manaus. I’m watching the game at the UK Embassy, wearing my 1993 Newcastle jersey.

Até mais, amigos.

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eyeonbrazil.
[It’s not the destination, but the journey that counts. Now, what if it’s been a really bad journey?]

Expectations and excitement has been building up for some time, as the number of canary-yellow jerseys take to the streets in greater numbers by the day. Flags everywhere, pavements chalked up in creative green, yellow and blue designs, peoples smiling in anticipation of the sixth World Cup title destined for the country where football is considered part of the DNA.

That was four years ago.

In 2014, World Cup in Brazil can be resumed as one, resigned, collective sigh. Yes, resigned, because Brazil has had SEVEN years to prepare for what was supposed to be the party of parties, the event of events, the celebration of celebrations. Of Brazil showcasing all its social, civic and economic progress, its joyeux de vivre, its welcoming ways and, of course, superior football. Well, Brazil is certainly a favourite to lift the trophy, so there might be glimpses of superiority on the pitch. Forget the rest.

At the moment of writing, kickoff is less than two days away. Preparations for hosting the 2014 World Cup has been Brazil in a nutshell: a striking incapability to plan, to execute, to conduct with transparency. Considerably less than half of promised infrastructure improvements have been concluded. Some probably never will be – which is far worse than all those aborted before any physical labour begun – as it’s literarily money down the drain. However which way you look at it, costs have soared, and corruption is taking its toll. Behold the Mané Garrincha stadium in the capital of the country, originally budgeted at around 800 million reais (US$ 350 million), but today almost hitting the 2 billion (US$ 900 million) mark. Or the Itaqueirão stadium, where the opening game will be held, situated in one of the poorer outskirts of the city of São Paulo. The amount of public money poured into these and other stadiums around Brazil… A stark contrast to the “World Cup of Private Investments” enthusiastically proclaimed by President Dilma Rousseff a few years back.

True enough, the relationship Brazilians nourish to football has gone rather sour over the last decade or so. How could it not? With access to information increasing by the day, especially the young are increasingly turning their backs on the corrupt and inefficient Brazilian Football Federation, the poorly run football clubs, the badly kept stadiums, the overpriced tickets, the insane hours imposed by leading broadcaster Globo, the arbitrary rulings of the Superior Tribunal of Sports… Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the questionable quality of Brazilian football itself. So, yes: football in Brazil is not what it used to be – not on club level, not on National Squad level. Still, that’s only part of the explanation, and a minor part. You see, Brazil is, still, a football nation.

Thing is, not only World Cup preparations but the whole of Brazil has gone awry. The economy has entered into a general stalemate, suffering under notoriously heavy bureaucracy, lack of fiscal reforms and a desperate need for investments in infrastructure. Tens of millions have been lifted out of extreme poverty due to social welfare programs and grants, while also the lower middle class has been growing considerably in numbers. Making up the lion’s part of Brazilian society, these people struggle immensely to make ends meet, and increasingly so as inflation is again moving up the scales, bringing back ghosts past.

The economy certainly is a matter of outmost concern, as is the poor educational system and the even worse public health care. Add the record-breaking 50.000+ homicides in 2013, and the 60.000+ deaths in traffic accidents – the latest fatality being Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari’s nephew only a few hours ago…

Elections are due this fall, but when you examine the candidates, there’s little hope in sight.

Brazilians are tired. Frustrated. Angry. They would love to celebrate the World Cup, but many lack the energy. And even larger numbers seem torn between mixed feelings. To what extent can I enjoy the World Cup without giving the government my stamp of approval? By having fun, am I being a fool, pathetically duped into submission?

Others voice a different opinion. “OK, there has been issues, but now all that must be set aside: it’s our duty to do the best World Cup humanly possible, the country’s image is at stake.”

Perhaps we’ll have a World Cup without major incidents. Brazil showing the world “they can do it”. Backslapping all around. And then refocus: after all, we have presidential elections coming up, then the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Perhaps we’ll have protests, and protests escalating into what we saw in mid 2013, with – literally – millions of people taking to the streets, jeopardising the entire World Cup. Protests that would show governments and FIFA that PEOPLE is a force to reckon with.

In a broader perspective, I have a feeling the second image of Brazil would be so much more enriching for the country, and for the world.

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ps. I’d really welcome your thoughts on this post; feel more than free to leave your comments.

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Mail_Online2.
It’s a well-known fact: Brazil has only won the World Cup when there were Palmeiras players in the squad. Mazzola in 1958; Djalma Santos, Vavá and Sequinha in 1962; Baldochi and Leão in 1970; Zinho and Mazinho in 1994; Marcos in 2002.

No Palmeiras players are to be found in the Brazil 2014 World Cup squad. The closest we have is defender Henrique, who transferred from Palmeiras to Napoli a few weeks before being called up be Luiz Felipe Scolari. No player, up until now, that is.

Seems like the sports section of prominent, UK based Daily Mail has decided to give Brazil a hand. In the picture above, “Scolari’s Henrique” has been substituted by Palmeiras’ centre-forward Henrique, recently arrived from Portuguesa. If you look carefully, “Palmeiras Henrique” (second row, second from the left) is even wearing a yellow Palmeiras jersey, paying homage to a historical game in 1965 when Palmeiras represented the full, Brazilian national squad in the opening game of the Mineirão stadium in Belo Horizonte, defeating Uruguay 3-0.

Thank you, Daily Mail: at least now, Brazil stands a fighting chance!

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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It’s not quite the same without a couple of things a day to make you wonder “what the hell”, is it? Well, now that the focus has shifted from the Copa do Brasil, rest assured thing will go back to normal (and by normal I mean reporting as usual on all Palmeiras snafu).

Midfielder Felipe, recently arrived at Palmeiras after a spectacular season at Mogi Mirim, has left for Atlético Paranaense. The 22-year-old, not much appreciated by Scolari, was liberated from his contract with Palmeiras (running to May 2013) in order to sign a four-year contract with his new club. In the transfer, Palmeiras got R$0,00, the equivalent of US$0,00. Odd? A Palmeiras director explained: “He was not going to be used by Scolari and by releasing him quickly to the first club that showed interest, we’re ridding Palmeiras of the burden to pay Felipe’s salary”. As dryly commented by Conrado of Verdazzo: no need for that second car of yours? Well, give it away to the first man that passes by on the street; congratulations, you’ve just saved yourself from some licensing fees.

Why are Palmeiras indulging in charity? How likely is it that no-one got anything from this transfer? This bed-time story is not putting anyone to sleep.

Then there’s Valdivia. His comments last Sunday about “contracts existing to be broken” certainly rocked the boat. Today was D-day for any transfer to the Arab World (in Europe, 31 August). Surely enough, Palmeiras received several proposals, the most lucrative coming from a club in Qatar. Although many would rather keep Valdivia at Palmeiras – including football manager César Sampaio – the athlete himself apparently was keen on the offer. In the end, also Palmeiras were apparently ready to play ball when resistance surged from Osório Furlán Júnior, the investor who has a huge percentage in Valdivia and was crucial for bringing him back to Palmeiras last year. Furlán probably thinks that for him to get his investment back, Valdivia must be in the limelight, i.e. next year’s Libertadores Cup. With this, Valdivia stays. For now. How motivated and for how long is impossible to speculate about.

Let’s wrap things up on a lighter note: the coach of the English National team, Roy Hodgson, yesterday visited Palmeiras’ training grounds together with other members of the Technical Committee. This was the third time the Committee visited Brazil scouting for a suitable base for the National team to be used during the 2014 World Cup.

“I was delighted with what I saw”, Hodgson said before added that the Training Grounds are excellent and have every condition to satisfy a National team. Hodgson also expressed his satisfaction with the opportunity to catch up with Scolari: “He’s a remarkable man”, he concluded.

Later this year, a delegation from the USA with the same mission  is also expected at the grounds.

Avanti Palestra!

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