Has Brazil benefited from hosting the 2014 World Cup?
Grieving is a long, arduous journey. It has been four years since the death of Brazil’s dream: World Cup glory on home soil.
Yet the Brazilians appear to have entered into the final chapter of the grieving process, namely acceptance. They recently donated the goalposts in which five first-half goals were conceded during Die Mannschaft’s 7-1 rout, to Germany’s footballing museum.
The intervening period between 2014 and now, as Brazil embark on their Russian odyssey among the favourites to lift the trophy, has been a story of polar fortunes.
The paradoxical thing about failure is that it creates room for success. Reacting to loss and error, by identifying how such mistakes can be avoided, often shapes improvement and betterment.
Sadly, for Brazil, no such learning curve materialised after their humbling exit. Instead, they replaced the maligned Luiz Felipe Scolari with Dunga, who had previous with the national team having occupied the helm from 2006-10.
Though results were good initially, including victories over Argentina and France, the resistance to change, embodied in Dunga’s appointment, soon recalled the same demons that haunted Selecao under Scolari.
Elimination to Paraguay in the 2015 Copa America was another embarrassment. During the same competition's Centenario anniversary a year later, failure to progress from the group stage proved an even bigger low point. It was clear Brazil's problems ran much deeper than the manager.
In stepped Tite. Originally expected to take charge after this summer's World Cup, he brought a fresh wind of change. Finally, the Green and Yellow would learn from the past mistakes that condemned them to three shocking results in as many years.
Learning how to learn
Brazil’s 2014 troubles can be attributed, on the whole, to an unhealthy dependence on Neymar, the absence of squad harmony and lacking tactical vision.
With the squad underperforming in World Cup qualification when Tite arrived, another catastrophe was being mooted. Under the 57-year-old's guidance, however, Brazil stormed through, finishing ten points ahead of nearest challengers Uruguay.
What now characterises Tite’s team is precisely the opposite of what once did under both Scolari and Dunga.
Only six hours before the 2014 semi-final kicked off, Scolari was believed to have completely changed his tactics. Astonishing his players, he opted to utilise a more offensive line-up instead of the one practised in training, whereby the Brazilians hoped to match Germany's midfield might.
That tactical chaos led to Selecao being overrun in the middle and suitably punished near their own goal.
Under Dunga, too, Brazil were one-dimensional, lacking any genuine imagination on the ball.
Tite, however, has fashioned a coherent, fluid side that works in tandem. Though creativity is encouraged and spontaneous flair common, the ex-Corinthians boss ensures his charges are functional as well as controlled.
Each player knows their role, where they should be and what needs doing. It sounds simple, but as Johan Cruyff once said:
“Football is simple but the hardest thing to do is play simple football.”
No longer a team of individuals
Playing such proactive organised football is dependent on the presence of the collective. Neymar, though given license to cause havoc, is no longer Brazil's individual saviour so often witnessed in past times. Not only does the Paris Saint-Germain attacker buy into the shared endeavour, he enhances it.
Writing for the Players’ Tribune, Tite acknowledged showing an NBA video during one of his first meetings as Brazil coach.
It was a clip of LeBron James' reaction when a teammate decided to shoot, rather than pass him the ball in open space. After the shot was missed, he didn't chastise or sulk. Instead, moments later, when LeBron was faced with the same decision, he chose to pass instead of replicating his fellow player's selfishness. Kyrie Irving, the man in question, then scored.
“This is the kind of atmosphere we need here to be successful. Everyone fighting for one another, even the stars”, said Tite.
“I called Dani Alves and Neymar — and everyone who really knows those two players understands how huge their hearts are, and how much they care about representing Brazil.
“For me, those phone calls solidified an idea that I had in my mind, which was that we had to create a good working environment where we were all fighting for one another.”
Tite is more affable and charismatic than his two predecessors. He is liked by both the press and fans. There is a joke in Brazil that the presidency would be his if he so chooses.
Equipped with stellar names, a clear tactical approach and a work-ethic that no player shies away from, Selecao have learned from their mistakes.
The sixth World Cup that cruelly eluded Brazil four years ago is now a very achievable prospect.