KEIR RADNEDGE in BRASILIA —- Like 70,000 others, I had just reeled out of the Mineirao in Belo Horizonte. One seat remained on the bus back into town. An elderly Brazilian journalist was bent over his laptop, mutterng the words under his breath as they seared on to his screen.
He recognised me as English and asked tersely: “How many years ago was the Football Association founded?” I told him. He nodded, turned back to his laptop and dictated to himself: “In all the 150 years of football, no defeat has ever been more shameful than the one suffered today by the Selecao at the hands of Germany.”
Brazilian fans and their national team have yet to recover. Since that unimaginable disgrace of a 7-1 battering in 2014 they have finished a mere fourth in that home World Cup and twice been dismissed with barely a squeak from two subsequent Copa America tournaments.
That the notorious, governing CBF remains apparently content to be led by a man indicted in the United States in the $200m FIFAGate corruption conspiracy is further testimony to how far Brazilian football has sunk.
The fact that Marco Polo Del Nero remains beyond the long arm of US law is due to the simple fact that no Brazilian citizen may be extradited against his will. This is a matter for the Brazilian constitution. Why world football federation FIFA aquieses is another matter entirely. That is a shaming issue all its own for Gianni Infantino and his independent-or-not ethics committee.
After all, FIFA and South American confederation CONMEBOL have imposed a ‘normalisation committee’ on neighbouring Argentina to resolve governance confusion. Why not Brazil?
Or is Brazil, as with Russia and the International Olympic Committee, just too big a beast to confront?
This is where Brazilian football stands as its men’s Olympic footballers prepare to kick off their pursuit of gold against South Africa here in Brasilia today in the world’s most expensive and lavishly-designed bus depot which is the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha.
Neymar, their captain and superstar and bearer of all the hopes (once more) of this vast nation, had promised Olympic gold as a sacred duty to make amends for the Mineraozao. Time to deliver
New national coach Tite has wisely swerved taking the management ‘extra’ whose failure brought dismissal for Vanderlei Luxemburgo and Mano Menezes in 2008 and 2012 respectively. Instead youth coach Rogerio Micale risks the gamble of professional death or glory.
Football is generally a sideshow at the Olympics although not this time. With one early exception, it’s been a fixture in the schedule for more than a century. Partly this is due to the worldwide sporting monolith which is the World Cup; this led to the compromise of an under-23 tournament sprinkled with a little Neymar-like like stardust.
Every coach has the right to pick three over age players but most do not. This is partly out of respect for the youngsters who secured qualification, partly because Olympic football does not feature in the international calendar: hence clubs cannot be forced to release players.
Neymar, with grudging but understanding Barcelona, bargained his absence from the Copa America Centenario in June against being here and now.
However Germany, to take one example, could arguably send a better full squad of refuseniks than the party of 18 finally entrusted to the wise old care of Horst Hrubesch. “It’s not satisfactory,” he said before setting out. “Really FIFA should do something about it but I’m not quite sure what and it’s not my business.”
Weakened or not, superstition will make Brazil wary of facing not only Germany but also reigning Olympic champions Mexico who beat Neymar and Co the 2012 final at Wembley. That was the third time Brazil had finished with only silver. They will never have a better chance of going one better than now.
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