The Jogo Bonito – that reference to Brazil’s beautiful game – is waning down. Yesterday, Brazil and Carlos Dunga came crushing down to earth yet again, in a controversial 1-0 defeat against Peru to exit Copa América Centenario.
Brazil has always been a synonym for excellence in the global game, a virtue of technical superiority, tactical refinement, and natural improvisation. The history of Brazilian soccer at the international level is rich and illustrious: five world cup wins have provided numerous legends such as Leonidas da Silva, Garrincha, Pelé, Zico, and Socrates, and many unforgettable moments.
That supremacy is, however, fading. In the 75th minute of Brazil’s final Copa América Centenario group game, Peru’s Raul Ruidiaz scored the winner, but there was a distinct unsavory element to his goal: he seemed to turn the ball into the Brazilian net with his hand. Referee Andres Cunha waved away Brazilian protests after a two-minute discussion with his linesman.
Cunha became a protagonist in the game, denying both teams strong penalty appeals. First, Lucas Lima and Christian Ramos got entangled, and then Edison Flores collided with Renato Augusto, both incidents inside the box.
It’s the first time Peru has defeated Brazil at the Copa América since 1975. Brazil finished third in the group and is on its way out. Storm clouds are gathering over Dunga; his job has become untenable. In the spring, disappointing draws in World Cup qualifiers against both Paraguay and Uruguay left Brazil outside of the qualifying places for the 2018 World Cup. This Copa América was seen as a survival tournament for Dunga.
His appointment had always been a very conservative move from the CBF: Dunga was never going to shake up Brazilian soccer. He was a decadent leader and his coaching credentials left a lot to be desired: he is a tactical dinosaur and emotionally unfit to coach, which he demonstrated, notably, in his first spell as Brazilian coach against Holland in the quarterfinals at the South Africa World Cup.
At Copa América, Brazil was always going to struggle without Neymar. The tournament offered Dunga a chance to test Brazil and reduce his dependence on the FC Barcelona star, but instead, Brazil was a team without direction and purpose, romping passed minnows to Haiti, but showing an underwhelming effort against both Ecuador and Peru.
Dunga must be given credit for trying to play a more expansive game, based on possession, rather than going for the counterattack, a heavy feature of Brazil in the last couple of years. But it simply hasn’t been good enough.
Last year, Brazil also exited prematurely at Copa, but the excuse that 2015 represented a transitional phase was valid. That story doesn’t hold up in 2016. The elimination is a stinging indictment of the Brazilian game – in crisis since 2014, but now in a true depression, having come to a total standstill.
At Rio 2016, the coveted Olympic gold medal looks difficult for Brazil to win; worse, for the first time ever, Brazil is in danger of not qualifying for the World Cup. Brazil must act if it wants to prevent that doomsday scenario. Dunga may well be out of a job soon.