Before the Brazil and Uruguay players appeared from the tunnel of the Arena Pernambuco on Good Friday, we were treated to many montages of Brazil’s glory days on the stadium’s massive TV screens.
Players such as Zico, Ronaldo, Socrates, Pele, Bebeto, Romario, Rivaldo, and most baffling of all, to me anyhow, Neymar Jr.
A short time before, on the same screens, we had been treated to the players arrival at the stadium. One by one Brazil’s best, at least as Dunga sees it, filed past the cameras to varying degrees of applause and cheers.
That is until Neymar marched towards the camera. The noise was immense and the cameraman saw fit to follow him until out of sight resulting in the two players who followed him not even getting filmed.
The Neymar Show
But this Brazil and the crowd only have eyes for one man – Neymar.
The only player to even get anything above the normal reception was the calamitous David Luiz.
As has become the norm on such occasions, Dunga’s name was met with a chorus of ear-splitting boos.
I always find it a little strange that Neymar is included in this extensive list of serial winners for Brazil, for as good as is he is, he has still won nothing with the national team.
On more occasions that would be desirable, his enthusiasm to impress for Brazil leads to the complete opposite result.
And for as long as Dunga remains at the helm of the national team, even considering the other managerial options open to the CBF at present, it will most likely remain like this for the foreseeable future.
If you live in Brazil, Neymar’s image is impossible to escape. From mouthwash, to fizzy drinks, to appearing in Globos Tele Novella soap operas that consume the population of Brazil nightly – Neymar is fast replacing the great Pele as the face and voice of everything.
I sound kind of bitter, don’t I?
Club v Country
Well, the truth of the matter is I think Neymar is a magnificent player. For Barcelona.
At club level Neymar finds himself not as the main man, but as a cog in the wheel of the most frightening front lines I have ever seen. He thrives in the shared spotlight of playing beside Messi and Suarez.
In recent times we have seen him struggle to come to terms with being THE man in the yellow of Brazil, as he tries to cope with all the pressures which come with it. It’s actually quite uncomfortable viewing at times, especially when Dunga’s game plan seems very singular – get the ball to Neymar.
Whatever adoration you may think Neymar receives worldwide, it pales into insignificance to the emotion and expectation that he is showered with in his native Brazil.
The other ten players may as well not even bother turning up. The other ten seem afraid to shoot or take responsibility themselves, and they are always looking to Neymar as the option. In short you stop Neymar, you are stopping Brazil, dead in their tracks.
Neymar is still only 24-years-old and some of his best days are still in front of him, but you get the feeling when watching him labour around for Brazil that the expectation of 200,000,000 people is killing his game in a yellow shirt.
He is literally trying too hard at the expense of his game. At Barca he has a role, for Brazil he is the team. And while this situation remains, personally I don’t feel his name belongs with those greats of Brazil mentioned earlier. At least not yet.
Anyhow, back to the game.
Brazil v Uruguay
The national anthems were sung with true passion, and even the group of supporters from Uruguay made a noise which belied their small number.
Neymar was named as captain of Brazil for this match, and the opposing captain was none other than his friend and Barca team mate, Luis Suarez. The pair shared handshakes, a brief hug and warm laughter before parting ways to join their respective teams for kick off.
In doing so Neymar took position ready for kick off, seemingly unmoved, while Suarez the moment he turned his back was in the Uruguayan faces fists clenched and his intense game face apparent for all to see.
Love him or hate him, Suarez is a pure winner and he shamelessly displays these emotions for all to see. Second place has no consideration in this man’s constitution.
Suarez had not kicked a ball for his national team since the fateful afternoon in Natal where he bit the shoulder of Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini during Brazil’s World Cup in 2014. Something seemed fitting that his return to international football was to be again in the north-east of Brazil.
Suarez is top of his game at present, and some have even suggested that he has eclipsed Messi in being the best player of the current season. In any case, Suarez looked well up for this match.
The reception he received from the Recife crowd was less than cordial, but its worth noting that it was still better than the reception given to Dunga.
Brazil as a nation is in crisis at the moment with corruption scandals in government, daily anti-government street protests, and a process to impeach the government currently under way.
Brazil has needed something to feel good about at the moment, and it felt like a perfect time for the national team to lift the people.
The crowd then turned their pre-kick-off attentions to the singing in unison demanding that the PT – the corrupt governing party in Brazil – be removed from office.
Directly after this they were able to return to chanting love to their national idol, Neymar, who just this month was ironically convicted of tax fraud. Sometimes you just have to laugh in this country, or else you would cry.
Brazil had only 40 seconds to wait before Willian sprinted down the right flank and presented a cross to the waiting Douglas Costa on the far post, who added the finish. The perfect start.
To be fair to the Uruguay team, their makeshift defence were caught stone cold and it was their enraged captain, Suarez, who let them know about it in no uncertain terms.
Brazil looked the more purposeful for the opening 20 minutes of the game. Douglas Costa the stand out player in the first half was having a huge impact on the left side and his box of tricks was a joy to watch. Willian drifted in and out of the game, but never really reached the performance levels we have seen from him in recent games for Brazil.
David Luiz did what David Luiz does for the national team, showing great steel periodically, then has your heart in your mouth with his calamity, but the crowd in Recife seem to really rate him. Each to their own I suppose.
Brazil doubled their lead on 26 minutes when Neymar had his most meaningful contribution with a slide rule pass to Renato Augusto of Beijing Guoan, who sold Fernando Muslera the perfect dummy before crashing the ball into the empty net.
Even at 2-0 Brazil never really looked in command of this game. With Cavani and Suarez hovering with menace and the latter marauding forward at every opportunity, leaving Miranda alone and shaking his head, you always felt Uruguay were far from out of the game.
With a two goal cushion the majority of the 46,000 inside the stadium returned their attention to anti government chants, but the two goal advantage was only to last five minutes after Alvaro Pereira cleverly nutmegged Willian before delivering a cross to the head of the excellent Carlos Sanchez. The glancing header fell perfectly into the path of Cavani who was never missing from that range.
The momentum of the game was reversed but it remained 2-1 to the hosts at the break.
The tie was lively and perfectly balanced at 2-1, but it only took Suarez four minutes after the restart to level the scores.
Periera was involved again, releasing Suarez who you never felt would miss from the moment he collected the ball. Suarez, as he has been doing for Barcelona, showed the pure class he possesses and finished it in style to level the scores.
Neymar was reverting to having to come deeper and deeper to get involved in the game while never really looking a threat to Uruguay. Meanwhile Cavani and Suarez were starting to look the most dangerous players on the pitch as the hapless David Luiz started to look dangerously out of his depth against the pair
Shortly after the break, with Brazil in retreat and Douglas Costa unable to have the same impact on the second half as he had on the first, the stadium called for the introduction of Philippe Coutinho. Dunga indulged them by sending on Coutihno on 67-minutes to replace Fernandinho.
One chance from Coutinho apart, Brazil never really looked much of a threat in the second half. As the game progressed the football died and theatre began. Jurgen Klinsmann would have been proud of some of the rolling around that followed as the game slowed to a near standstill.
The introduction of 35-year-old Ricardo Oliveira on 78-minutes was a clear demonstration of the continued backward thinking of Dunga, and showed the reason he is on the receiving end of the Brazilian supporters abuse.
Given the array of talent that which Dunga can call upon for the national team, he seems hell bent on persisting with selections that reek of the past, with players like Oliveira, and the initial inclusion of Kaka in the 22.
Not so long ago he was selecting the like of Diego Tardelli and Fred. Its not a popular policy. When you throw in the omission of Thiago Silva from Dunga’s squads the questions really do mount up. You are always left with the feeling that Dunga’s next failure will be his last.
As the clock ran down Brazil’s goalkeeper Alisson became the unlikely hero as he thwarted two great chances from close range. Suarez had a one-on-one which on any other day he buries, but Alisson managed to use his legs and get just enough on it to prevent the goal.
The niggly fouls continued until the final whistle, and while a draw is not the end of the world for either nation, you get the feeling that Uruguay will be the much happier with the point.
Next Stop – Paraguay
Next up for Brazil – minus the suspended Neymar – is a trip to Paraguay, which gives the sense of a banana skin in their path.
Gone are the days where Brazil would have gone there in a position of supremacy. Today the tricky, streetwise Paraguayans will test the visitors mettle in every department, and without Neymar the team will be looking to come together as one to try to claim a win.
With David Luiz also suspended, it’ll be interesting to observe the different dynamics in Dunga’s side.
One thing is for sure, the South American Qualifiers for Russia 2018 are proving to be an interesting watch, and hopefully we will see the drama continue in the coming week.