Adobe Flash Player Required.
Download the latest version here.

Brazilian football must get real

02 Jun 2013 | 00:00

In professional football, money is, always has been, and always will be a key factor. However, not necessarily a decisive one.

If it was then Brazil would have at least three representatives in the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores – South America’s Champions League.

Instead, Brazil was only a penalty miss away from losing all interest in the competition at the quarter-final stage.

The country’s last standing survivor, free-scoring Atletico Mineiro, was 12 yards and 30 seconds from elimination. All Tijuana striker Duvier Riascos had to do was score the stoppage-time penalty and his club, Tijuana of Mexico, would be through to the last four.

Normally the crowd in Atletico’s Independiencia stadium creates a fervent atmosphere. Now an eerie silence descended. Many were in tears, anticipating the bitterness of defeat.

Riascos struck his shot straight down the middle – usually a safe bet if the keeper makes a dive. Vitor hurled himself to his right – but was able to block the shot with his legs. Atletico was through, and Brazilian honour, if not entirely saved, received less of a bruising.

These days the Libertadores should be no contest. Over the last four years the revenues of the top Brazilian clubs have doubled. The country has a strong currency. In financial terms the Brazilian teams have an advantage over the rest of the continent, which borders on the absurd.

They can hold on to their starlets for longer and bring established players back from Europe sooner. But they are being eliminated by rival clubs whose entire wage bill would not pay for one Brazilian star name.

Also in the quarter-finals, reigning Brazilian champion Fluminense fell to Olimpia of Paraguay.

In the previous round Gremio, which had gone on a huge shopping spree, was knocked out by Santa Fe of Colombia. Tijuana sent Palmeiras packing. Club World Cup champion Corinthians lost out to the most ordinary Boca Juniors side in memory.

And there was one all Brazilian clash, Atletico seeing off Sao Paulo. But the beaten side, one of the richest clubs in the continent, had only limped into the knockout round after a dismal group phase where it managed to be second best against tiny Arsenal of Argentina.

How can this be explained?

The typical local response is to blame the referee. In specific cases, this might be justified.

Corinthians, for example, seemed unfortunate with a couple of decisions that went against it but there is far more Brazilian paranoia than sense in this line of argument – because the rest of the continent speaks Spanish, the Portuguese-speaking Brazilians have a tendency to think that everything is stacked against them.

There is plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Palmeiras, for example, appeared to get the benefit of the key decisions in its tie.

Much more importantly, something of great importance is being forgotten in this debate – football.

To my mind, one moment sums it up – the goal that Santa Fe scored to eliminate Gremio.

In front of its own fans, the Colombian side was just over 10 minutes away from elimination but there was no panic. It observed the basic concepts of the game – in the zone of elaboration, forget the goal and search for a team-mate – and if you keep doing it, there will come a moment when the gateway opens up to the goal.

It patiently passed the ball around, in a neat triangle down the left, sucking in the defence. Then, a sudden change of rhythm – a diagonal ball to the edge of the area, a quick one-two to get behind the defence, some neat footwork and a cool finish past the goalkeeper.

This is the type of move that Brazilian football used to produce with beautiful frequency – and needs to study to learn how to do once more.

Instead, Brazilian TV took a different approach. It slowed down the tape, stopped the image at a certain moment and pointed out that there was a possibility that a Santa Fe player was (and I am not making this up) 10 centimetres offside.

It was an object lesson in how to miss a basic point.

Dorival Junior, the coach who nurtured Neymar at Santos, argued that Brazilian football has forgotten how to pass the ball through the middle of the pitch, that such elaboration has become the victim of an obsession with springing attacking full-backs on the counter-attack. He is surely correct.

But the problem is not only tactical. It is also emotional.

Fans, media, coaches – all are overdoing the emphasis on fighting spirit, referring to their side as a team of warriors. Players are being sent out for Libertadores matches as if they are going to a war, with an emotional charge that does not always lead to good decision making – and in football, to play well is to choose well.

The only positive side of all this is that now there is now hiding place. Brazilian football has been travelling in these directions for some time – a development I have frequently used this space to bemoan.

Lack of money could always be used as a ready made excuse but not any more. Now the Brazilians are losing to opponents that are financially so much weaker – making it harder to hide from reality.

And acknowledging reality is a necessary step on the road to changing it.

About this blog


Tim Vickery

British-born Tim works as a journalist and has lived in Brazil since 1994 and provides unrivalled knowledge of South American football. Follow @Tim_Vickery on Twitter. Read More.

Meet Our Bloggers

Les Murray

Fondly known as 'Mr Football', Les has been directly involved in all the major events covered by SBS Sport, including five World Cup football tournaments. Follow @lesmurraysbs on Twitter.

Craig Foster

As SBS’s chief football analyst, Craig provides expert opinion and unrivalled insight. He has also represented the Socceroos and played abroad. Follow @Craig_Foster on Twitter.

David Zdrilic

After years playing abroad and a 20-goal career for the Socceroos, David turned his hand to football punditry and is a beach football fanatic. Follow @Zdrila on Twitter.

Scott McIntyre

Scott’s passion and knowledge of Asian football has consolidated his reputation as Australia’s foremost Asian football expert. Follow @mcintinhos on Twitter.

Lucy Zelic

Lucy is a life-long sports buff and former host of the Official A-League Podcast and also commentated games for Canberra United in the W-League. Follow @LucyZelic on Twitter.

Tim Vickery

British-born Tim works as a journalist and has lived in Brazil since 1994 and provides unrivalled knowledge of South American football. Follow @Tim_Vickery on Twitter.

Philip Micallef

Philip Micallef is a football writer with almost 40 years of experience. He has worked for News Limited and now SBS. He is a long-time follower of AC Milan.

Ned Zelic

Considered one of Australia's most gifted players, Ned Zelic represented the Socceroos 34 times over a decorated career that spanned Europe, Asia and the United Kingdom. Follow @NedZelic on Twitter.

Vitor Sobral

Vitor commentates for SBS and works as a presenter for The World Game. His passion for European football resonates through his blogs. Follow @Vitor_TWG on Twitter.

Tony Palumbo

A journalist with decades of experience on TV and radio, Tony is an expert on all things Italian - including football.

Australian FourFourTwo, The World Game Magazine

Australian FourFourTwo, The World Game Magazine

If it’s in The World Game, it’s in FourFourTwo. At newsagents and online.

4WD Australia: 50 Short Getaways (Book)

4WD Australia: 50 Short Getaways (Book)

Take the trip of a lifetime with this handy full colour book of 4WD trail information. Regional journeys highlight the top 50 tracks around Australia!

  • '09 #1 Sports Soccer Website, Hitwise
  • '09 #1 Television Program, Hitwise
  • '08 #1 Sports Soccer Website, Hitwise