And there it is. Brazil don’t appear to be the super team we all expected them to be heading into this World Cup. On paper, they have been highly regarded as the strongest squad in the tournament. But, you wouldn’t have guessed it on Friday.
Tite’s super squad – which took the No.1 spot in the official FIFA rankings in 2017 – were subject to a 1-0 defeat to Cameroon, the team ranked 43rd by the same governing body. It was a historic day for Rigobert Song’s squad, despite the fact they failed to reach the knockout stages. Nobody expected them to defeat the Selecao, but their outstanding comeback against Serbia on Monday clearly sparked a bit of magic.Embed from Getty Images
Cameroon created a number of problems for the Brazilians throughout. Bryan Mbeumo forced an outstanding save from Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson with a headed effort in the first half, while Vincent Aboubakar’s second-half strike flew narrowly wide of the post. But, the magic moment came in the dying minutes, when Aboubakar directed Ngom Mbekeli’s cross into the bottom right corner of Ederson’s net. The super striker’s celebrations perfectly encapsulated the sheer joy felt by all Cameroonians in that very moment, but he took them a bit too far. After whipping off his shirt in jubilation, the Al Nassr star received a pat on the back from referee Ismail Elfath before being shown a second yellow card… inevitably followed by a red. It didn’t matter though, the Indomitable Lions had defeated Brazil for the first time in their history. Meanwhile, the Selecao were left red-faced.
Tite’s side did look threatening throughout. By far the best player on the pitch was 21-year-old Arsenal starlet Gabriel Martinelli, who just so happened to be making his full international debut on the night. When the last World Cup kicked off in Russia four years ago, Martinelli was just a teen with a dream having just signed his first professional deal with Brazilian Serie B side Ituano. He joined Arsenal in a £6million move the following year, but didn’t establish himself as a first team regular until 2021 – the same year he not-so coincidently made his international debut. With Neymar still subject to the sidelines with the ankle injury he sustained during Brazil’s opening match against Serbia, Martinelli stepped up to the plate. The young talent came close to finding a breakthrough on at least three occasions throughout while also attempting to assist his teammates with his dynamic style of play.Embed from Getty Images
Manchester United new boy Antony was also impressive, despite the mystery illness he has been suffering with over the past few days of which he bizarrely claimed was caused by Qatar’s air conditioning.
However, it wasn’t such a good night for Gabriel Jesus, who was outshone by his Arsenal teammate Martinelli despite being much more experienced. To make matters worse, he also picked up an injury to his right knee. The striker is set miss the rest of the tournament due to the issue, which is not the news anyone would have wanted to hear, especially with Neymar not set to return until the quarter-final stage at the earliest. That is, of course, if the Selecao make it that far.
Brazil are set to take on Group H runners-up South Korea on Monday, and it will be far from an easy match. Paulo Bento’s side came from behind to complete a shock comeback against group leaders Portugal on Friday to secure their spot in the knockout stages… and to kick Uruguay and Ghana out of the tournament in dramatic fashion. It marked an epic end to what has been deemed by many as the best World Cup group stage of all time. But one thing is for sure, there is still much more excitement to come.
Before the tournament, it would have been deemed a shock for Brazil to be knocked out before the semi-final stage. But at this point in the tournament, not so much. The Selecao have hardly wowed fans with their performances so far. They failed to find a breakthrough against Serbia until midway through the second half, and the same happened against Switzerland earlier this week, but it wasn’t until the 83rd minute of the match when Casemiro fired home the decisive goal.
Something is clearly missing from the squad, and it’s not just Neymar. Brazil lacked that cutting edge in each of their opening three games, which shouldn’t be the case with the likes of Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo, Antony, Martinelli, Jesus, Richarlison and Raphinha all available. Three lacklustre performances have culminated in a group stage to forget, but the World Cup is far from over.Embed from Getty Images
Tite’s squad needs inspiring, and maybe the high stakes of the knockout stages will give them the kick they need. With the likes of France, Spain and England performing at their highest level, the Brazilians will need to put in the work in attempt to match. However, Tite isn’t convinced that they’ll be down for long. After the Cameroon game, he said: “I think all the teams who qualified with a game to spare, lost their last game. Brazil lost to Cameroon, Portugal lost to South Korea, France lost to Tunisia, Argentina lost to Saudi Arabia… Nobody won all three games. I think the results speak for themselves. They are very strong, very tough matches, I don’t think that any prior situation makes it easy. We need to be very careful.
“We now have to concentrate for 24 hours, suffer for 24 hours. The World Cup doesn’t usually give you a second chance, in this one it did.”
While the defeat to Cameroon serves as a huge bump in Brazil’s road to the final, they’re not down, and they’re not out… just yet.