Sunday, July 4, 2010
The Brazilian players didn't have any doubts entering the World Cup, thanks to a team that had won nearly every competition it had played and had added poise and efficiency to its ''Beautiful Game.''
But a bad half against the Netherlands was all it took to derail Brazil's hopes for a record sixth world title. For the second World Cup in a row, Brazil failed to get past the quarterfinals, losing 2-1 to the Dutch despite taking an early lead on Friday in Port Elizabeth.
Four years ago, it was a disappointing loss to France that kept the Brazilians from advancing. But now the players say it feels much worse.
''The loss really hurts this time, much more than in 2006,'' said Kaka, a starter for Brazil in both tournaments. ''This one really got to us, there is a lot of pain, because of all that we had done so far, because of where we thought we could get.''
Brazil arrived as one of the World Cup favorites despite a revamped squad after the tournament in Germany. Dunga had little experience as a coach, but he gave Brazil a new style that quickly produced significant results.
Under the command of the former defensive midfielder, Brazil won the 2007 Copa America and the 2009 Confederations Cup, and beat Argentina, Italy, England and Portugal in friendlies. The country also won the bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and finished first in South American World Cup qualifying.
Brazil also had a solid start in South Africa, beating North Korea 2-1 and Ivory Coast 3-1 before being held 0-0 by Portugal. It played its best match in the 3-0 win over Chile in the second round to setup the clash with the Dutch.
The expectations were high back home and among the players.
''It was a shock to everyone,'' Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar said of the loss. ''We knew the fans had a lot of hope that we would win this time.''
Robinho gave Brazil an early lead at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, but Dutch playmaker Wesley Sneijder scored twice in the second half to eliminate the Brazilians.
Midfielder Felipe Melo is leaving South Africa taking much of the blame for the loss. After a remarkable pass to contribute to Robinho's goal, Melo was involved in both plays that led to the Dutch's goals, then was red carded for an unnecessary foul that left Brazil needing to rally with a man down.
''I have to apologize to the Brazilian fans,'' he said.
The Brazilian defense, which arrived as one of the best in the world with Julio Cesar, Maicon, Lucio and Juan, also unexpectedly fell apart against the Netherlands, at a terrible time for the five-time champions.
''We know the Brazilian fans are very sad now because of our elimination,'' Kaka said. ''But it's worse for the players, no one is hurting more than we are.''
Dunga made very few changes to the Brazilian squad after taking over following the 2006 World Cup, and players have said all along that the group was much more united than four years ago. Julio Cesar said Dunga was able to put together a ''group of friends, of brothers.''
Every Brazilian player cried in the locker room after the loss, the goalkeeper said.
''Without a doubt everyone was sad, we didn't expect it to end like this,'' Dunga said. ''You could see it in the players' faces. But I'm very proud to have worked with this group.''
Eight players from this year's team were with Brazil when it lost 1-0 to France in 2006, including starters Lucio, Juan, Kaka and Gilberto Silva.
Brazil will likely need another revamping of its squad for the 2014 World Cup at home. It arrived in South Africa with the tournament's oldest squad, and many players will not be returning. Defender Lucio and Juan are probably done, as is midfielder Gilberto Silva after playing in his third World Cup.
But this time it likely won't be Dunga who is responsible for the renovation, as he hinted after the loss to the Netherlands that he will not continue ahead of the national team. He had a four-year contract and will likely not try to extend it.
Finding a new coach might be the first step for Brazil to get over the disappointment in South Africa, but players know it won't be easy.
''Now it's time to go home, hug our relatives and hope time will help us forget what happened,'' Julio Cesar said. ''Only time can do that.''
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