Let’s kick off, then.
When the Brazilian FA (CBF) started hunting for a coach after the quarterfinal exit in the last World Cup, the job description included handling the Olympic team. If for most nations this means a distraction, for Brazilians it has the shape of a holy grail. More like an obsession: having won two silver and two bronze medals, Brazil wants the Olympic Football Gold badly, especially after seeing Argentina winning it back-to-back in Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008.
The problems is: at the same time, there’s the small matter of the 2014 World Cup, where as host Brazil will be under huge pressure to win the sixth title. Anyone who hasn’t come from Mars or born in the last 10 years knows that losing at home to Uruguay in 1950 is the biggest trauma in the country’s collective consciousness.
This is what is expected whoever took the job. As we all know now, it all came to a plan C: after receiving a no from Luiz Felipe Scolari and seeing Fluminense deny leave to Muricy Ramalho, the FA had to settle with Mano Menezes, a rising star in the Brazilian managerial community who had almost won the Libertadores Cup with Gremio and took Corinthians, with a tubby Ronaldo upfront, to a Brazilian Cup title.
When Brazil toyed with a US team in the first friendly match last August (2-0 flattered the American side), everybody smiled. Efficient wins against Iran and Ukraine helped consolidate the feeling that fresher legs were the way forward. But then came the Doha encounter with Argentina, which Brazil lost with a last-minute Messi goal and struggled to entertain even with the presence of a supposedly born-again Ronaldinho.
Last February, the call-up list for the friendly against France had the name of Inter Milan’s Julio Cesar. The first outing after another 1-0 defeat (last month’s match against Scotland in London) included Cesar’s team mate Maicon and the return of Elano, now repatriated at Santos.
Public and media picked signs of managerial jittery nerves in regards to the only competition Brazil will play in 2011, Copa America – the South American Championship). Played in Argentina during the summer, this year’s event shouldn’t matter at all for Brazil but will do in case the trophy conquered in four of the five editions does not remain in CBF’s neat hedquarters in Rio’s Barra da Tijuca.
Panic call-ups, however, are certainly not necessary. With Dani Alves as the world’s best right-back, Rafa da Silva is good enough cover. Maicon is not a shadow of the bulldozer that laid claim to the position in the last few years. Surely with Paulo Henrique Ganso back to the side after a knee injury, Brazil’s midfield can accommodate younger players than Elano, who will be 33 in 2014 – why not dream with a Lucas-Ramirez-Ganso line supporting a three-strike front line?
If the idea is wining Olympics and World Cup in a row, the Copa America should be regarded as a lab. Nothing else, in spite of all the eventual banter by Uruguayans and Argentines…
Follow Fernando Duarte also at www.ferduarte.net or twitter (@Fernando_Duarte)