Brazil is a country of contrasts. There is the fabulous wealthy and the chronic poor. There is great beauty and stunning ugliness. And the 2014 FIFA World Soccer Tournament has certainly brought out all the good, the bad and, yes, the ugly. To add insult to injury Brazil was mauled by Germany, 7goals to I, before a home crown stunned into saddening silence and shock.
The Germans unleashed a football blitzkrieg on a confused and outplayed Brazilian side that looked at times to be distracted, incoherent and floundering. It was a painful episode to watch a once mighty team, so full of hope and promise, being so pummeled and slapped around as an errant bratty child in need of a parental scolding. Brazilians were teary eyed and relieved when the final whistle was blown, ending their team's agony and misery.
Brazil built its 2014 World Cup national team around the individual poweress of striker Neymar. For a country still searching for the illusive and one-of-a --kind King Pele, that search has been long, frustrating and filled with controversy. Arguably the only genuine Brazilian superstar striker to come near to the great man has been Ronaldo. After him it's been really shades and flashes of brilliance, short, luminescent and unsustained.
At one time it was Kaka, another Oscar, and another Ramires. All have been found wanting. Yet Brazil continued to build its national team forever searching for a version of Edson Arantes Do Naciemento, King Pele.
But two social phenomenons helped to expose Brazil, and indeed Latin American, football weaknesses.
The first is the fact that after the 1950s and early 60s, arguably Brazil's golden soccer era, the youth of Brazil ,while continue to play football, rapidly lost interest over the years. This was partly due to the advent of television, in particular cable television, which exposed Brazilian youths to other sports like American basketball and baseball. Suddenly, the "beautiful game" lost its attraction and appeal.
The second issue is that Brazil, and Latin and South American star players, have joined European clubs flush with money. They play very little back in their home countries and therefore are unable to inspire younger generations that now see them on TV or the Internet.
What this has done over time is to change the style of Latin and South American play. Football nations like Brazil are now playing a hybrid version and style of European football with its slower tempo, more physical contact and diving. Gone is the Samba in Brazil's football. So in this World Cup we have seen very little difference in football style between Argentina and the Netherlands or Brazil and Belgium. By contrast teams like Columbia, Chile and Costa Rica shocked and excited fans and pundits alike because of their fast, beautiful, engaging play and individual ball skills.
So when the World Cup comes around every for years, Brazil and many other counties in Africa, Latin America and Asia scramble to cobble together a national team made up of individual players who never played with each other. These players make boatloads of money in Europe, have homes there, and only visit their country of birth from time to time. Because they may not be considered for selection by the country in which they make their money (over players born there) they line up with the country of their birth in a side rather than a team.
It's very different in Europe where national teams play in local leagues and contest the European Cup. The German national team is made up of Germans who live and play in their country or at the very least return to their homes on a regular basis and interact with their peers in the game.
So from the start Brazil struggled with team synergy and coordination from the very first game. That was most obvious. Luck and chance saw them to the semi-finals but without their star player and inspiring captain the "team," if that's what it could be called, was a study in disarray, disorganization, and demoralization. Brazil came over as an amateur team and was imperiously dismissed by a professional well-oiled and organized German team.
Beyond the humiliating defeat there are social, economic and political ramifications. For the Brazilian government there will be soul-searching , hand-wringing and a search for answers to what went wrong. Brazil will have to engage the only place where the game has not lost its appeal, flavor and allure -- the Favelas or slums. Its here that the new generation of players will come from -- not the sanitized middle class neighborhoods where most of the present crop of players belong
You see, for most of Brazil's poor football is still the way our of the Favelas and poverty. This is evidenced by the fact that unable to afford the high-priced tickets to see he games these Favelas organized their own version of the World Cup and ironically Germany was the winner.
The Brazilian soccer authorities must take a page out of European soccer clubs' book -- they recruit players young, very young. For example, Argentina's Lionel Messi, now a football superstar, was recruited by Spanish club Barcelona at the age of 14 years. And the ruling Brazilian football authority must make it financially worth the while for its players to stay home so that the game is developed and strengthened.
To be sure there will be many empty stadiums after FIFA packs up and leaves. Some are in areas near to the Amazon where football is not played very frequently and the indigenous population has very little interest. Selling the game to these populations should be a program that is put in place along with social and economic benefits. Football could be he engine to a better life for these people.
But Brazil can and will bounce back. I have no doubt about that. That's because defeat has a curious way of humbling the mightiest among us. Brazil's football hubris was exposed and the country paid a very high price. It was a national embarrassment. So now the painstaking process of rebuilding starts. It's a golden opportunity for Brazil's football to be bigger, better and bolder. But only if there is an effort to embrace all of Brazil's population to find the very best players.