Brazil’s SWC failure: What went wrong?
Neymar (Getty Images)
Cape Town - The truly great, it is said, cast a shadow even in their absence - and despite all the excitement and tantalising unpredictability of the current Soccer World Cup, the elimination of Brazil, like it invariably does, left an unfulfilled void.
And so, following on the tense, nervy 2-1 defeat of the record five-times champions at the hands of Belgium’s "golden era" combination, the multitude of supporters 'round the world of the side around whom "the beautiful game" label originated, were sombrely and sadly asking "why?"
Well, in the first instance, Brazil suffered a crushing hammer blow through the pre-tournament injury and unavailability of PSG and former Barcelona and Juventus right-back Dani Alves.
It may be argued that the loss of a fullback should not make that much difference to a goal-scoring machine, but attacking fullbacks are traditionally one of Brazil's most offensive ploys - and never more so than this time in their pre-conceived planning, with Alves and the irrepressible Marcello on the opposite flank widely regarded as the two most creative fullbacks in the world.
In the circumstance, Brazil's not-so-secret potency lost its fine balance and there was no one to compensate for the astute Alves' absence.
Then, to magnify the untimely loss, the defensive midfield bulwark, Real Madrid's Casemiro, who was designated as cover for the fullback marauders, picked up two yellow cards in earlier matches and was not eligible to play against the Belgians, with his replacement, Manchester City's Fernandinho, not only inadequate for the task at hand, but also giving away the early "own goal" that played such a pivotal part in the bitter defeat.
And then there was the enigma of Neymar, who failed to fill his designated role as Brazil’s springboard to glory for a culmination of reasons.
Despite his immense skill, which earned him the title as the world's most expensive footballer following his transfer from Barcelona to PSG, Neymar has yet to earn the right to be ranked among the all-time greats of the game because of his shortcomings in character and temperament.
And, to magnify these shortcomings, Neymar was further hampered by the remnants of the recent leg surgery that left him less than 100 percent fit and unable to demonstrate the full repertoire of his dazzling skills with the ball at the World Cup - which he nevertheless persisted in trying to achieve in exaggerated fashion instead of adapting to his enforced limitations.
Brazil also might well have been awarded a penalty, they came up against an inspired goalkeeper and were on the wrong end of the strokes of luck that are often the deciding factors on such emotional, closely contested occasions - ironically much in the same way that Lady Luck turned against the Belgians in their semi-final defeat against France.
So, for the fourth time in a row Brazil faltered in a World Cup against European opposition despite starting the tournament as favourites - and, while the 2018 version might not have been one of their most formidable combinations, the shadow of the "beautiful game" they created lingers on.