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Brazil must heed warning

Published : Apr 1, 2016, 10:43 pm IST
Updated : Apr 1, 2016, 10:43 pm IST

Dani Alves (second from left) celebrates his late equaliser against Paraguay in the South American qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup in Asuncion on Tuesday.

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Dani Alves (second from left) celebrates his late equaliser against Paraguay in the South American qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup in Asuncion on Tuesday.

Brazil would welcome Fifa president Gianni Infantino’s grand plans to have 40 teams at the World Cup with open hands. But there is no hope for an extra slot for South America any time soon because Infantino isn’t expected to have his wish fulfilled before 2026. The five-time world champions are sixth in the South American qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup. Brazil have 12 more matches to rescue their campaign and ensure that they are on the plane to Russia. As the gap between them and the top teams isn’t huge, it’s not all doom and gloom for Brazil. Dunga’s team can, however, never relax until qualification has been sealed because they aren’t brimming with talent and match winners. And, no country in South America quiver in their boots at the sight of Brazil these days.

Fans who still associate Brazil with their dazzling World Cup team in 1970 and aesthetically superior teams of the 80s would like to believe that the Selecao are still kings. For them, the 7-1 drubbing Brazil received at the hands of Germany in the semi-final of the 2014 World Cup must have been an aberration. It’s true that Brazil aren’t as appalling as they had been on the wretched day at Belo Horizonte. At the same time, it must be said that they are in decline and if powers that be in Brazilian football administration don’t read the warning signs the country’s future could be dire.

Brazil turned to Dunga, a World Cup winner in 1994, after the Germany humiliation. But the no-nonsense manager hasn’t been able to whip the team into winning shape. If Dunga’s failure to win the Copa America last year was an inauspicious start to his second innings as national coach, his team’s struggles in the World Cup qualifiers point to deeper problems within Brazilian football.

The biggest headache for Brazil nowadays is lack of talent. It showed against Paraguay on Tuesday. In the absence of Neymar, who was suspended for the match, Brazil missed a creative spark. Apart from the Barcelona star, the Selecao don’t have a player who can turn a match around on his own. Brazil never had to endure such a paucity of talent in their storied history. Gone were the days when getting a Brazil cap was as tough as winning the World Cup.

If Dani Alves hadn’t scored a last-gasp equaliser in the away match against Paraguay, Dunga would now be fending off calls for his ouster. In the previous round at home, Brazil threw away a two-goal lead against Uruguay in a 2-2 draw. In the space of five days, their brittle back was ruthlessly exposed twice. Uruguay, minnows in size and population compared to Brazil, are the most consistent team from South America in recent times. The conveyor belt of talent in the country, which is home to more cattle than human beings, continues to churn out top-class players. In Luis Suarez, they have a winner. No contemporary player has been as brilliant for his club and country as the Barcelona striker in recent memory. Not even Messi can measure up to him. Neymar’s stats are comparable to Suarez’s but he lacks the killer instinct of the Uruguayan.

Brazil need a root and branch overhaul of their youth structure, a la Germany after their debacle at the 2000 Euro, to reclaim their lost glory. It’s easier said than done for Brazil’s venal football administrators. If corrective actions aren’t taken immediately, Brazilian football might follow Indian hockey into doldrums.