BY JAMES YOUNG | Posted: Sat Jul. 12, 2014
The Netherlands beat Brazil for the second straight World Cup, and while 2010’s quarterfinal win legitimately ended Brazil’s quest in South Africa, the 2014 third-place match seemed more like the final act of destruction, with the Selecao failing to turn in a more inspired showing after a 7-1 drubbing at the hands of Germany in the semifinals.
For Brazil, it marks the official end of a lost World Cup, while the Netherlands have a second straight top-three finish to boast after the 3-0 win in Brasilia.
Here are three thoughts on the match:
Back to the drawing board for Brazil
In many ways it was fitting that Saturday’s game took place amidst the intimidating, massive surroundings of Estadio Mane Garrincha in Brasilia. The stadium, which cost around $900 million of public money to build, is reported to be the second most expensive in the world – in a city where the local teams, none of whom play in Brazil’s top two divisions, usually attract crowds that number in the hundreds rather than the thousands. Local authorities and stadium administrators will now face an enormous challenge trying to extend the working life of the venue, while justifying its tremendous cost.
Arguably, a similarly intimidating mission lies in store for Brazilian soccer. While coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has tried to explain away the semifinal humiliation against Germany as 20 minutes of madness, many leading Brazilian sportswriters, and even the country’s president Dilma Rousseff, have called for a major overhaul of the country’s sickly domestic soccer scene. Brazil had not convinced even before the Germany game, and in truth, has been unimpressive at the last three World Cups. Neymar and Thiago Silva aside, the present crop of internationals are a far cry from the glory days of Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Romario and the like.
The country’s sorry end to the World Cup continued against the Netherlands, as Brazil quickly fell behind to goals from Robin van Persie and Daley Blind, before Georginio Wijnaldum added a final flourish in stoppage time. Thiago Silva’s flailing grasp at Robben’s shoulder and David Luiz’s floundering headed clearance onto Blind’s boot were straight from Tuesday’s massacre at the Mineirão blooper reel. Brazil seemed to have found a way of playing and an identity during last year’s Confederation Cup. Now, with the reputation of a number of key players (not least Luiz) severely tarnished, it is a case of back to the drawing board for a country desperate to recapture the glories of the past.
Van Gaal goes out victorious
Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal was openly snippy about the merits of this often underwhelming fixture during the week, saying that “there is only one award that counts and that is becoming world champions.” But the veteran manager, who will take over at Manchester United after the World Cup, was able to keep his charges focused and organized enough to easily handle an insipid Brazil side.
Despite his purported lack of interest, van Gaal treated the fixture and the opposition with respect, showing only two changes (one enforced) from the semifinal against Argentina. It showed in a fluid, serious display that allowed the manager and his young team to finish an impressive campaign on a high. Bringing on third-choice keeper Michel Vorm, the only player in the squad not to have made an appearance in Brazil, for the final minutes was a classy move and his last act as manager of the Oranje.
Toothless In Brasilia (and Belo Horizonte, and Fortaleza, and…)
While the debate over the long term future of the Seleção will run and run, this summer’s vintage had one remarkable failing – the lack of a center forward who could strike mild nervousness, let alone fear, into an opposing defense. Fred was made the scapegoat for Brazil’s elimination after a string of hopeless performances, and he was on the receiving end of a ferocious torrent of boos and abuse after the Germany game, but his reserve Jo showed against the Netherlands that he is not much more threatening.
Both play in Brazil’s domestic league, as do former international hopefuls Leandro Damiao and Alexandre Pato, both of whom have failed to develop as expected, while the loss of Brazilian-born Diego Costa to Spain was a bitter blow. While Brazilian fans may howl in anguish at the thought of Fred or Jo leading the line, it is sobering to think that the pair may yet be the best the country has to offer as a complement to Neymar.