The nation that has won five World Cups, that produced Pele, Romario and Ronaldo, is currently wondering whether to play Fred or Jo in attack against Cameroon on Monday.
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After two poor performances in their first two games – a fortunate 3-1 win over Croatia and a dire 0-0 draw with Mexico – the hosts are starting to fear that their bluntness might stand between them and the home World Cup triumph they are so desperate for.
Neymar, the hero of the team, has played well in both games but Fred, who has started twice, has been so bad he has almost vandalised his team-mate’s good work.
Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari was left complaining on Tuesday night, as he walked out of the post-match press conference in Fortaleza, that the media is too critical of Fred.
Scolari will not have liked yesterday’s newspapers. The front of the World Cup section in O Globo bemoaned “No Inspiration” while Eduardo Tironi, writing in Lance!, called it a “a terrible performance”, as “the team managed to play even worse than they did against Croatia”.
One bad display would have been manageable, explained away by nerves, but two in a row is problematic. It is fairly commonplace to downplay Brazil teams as lacking the star quality that made them so great in the past, but surely no Selecao has ever been as deficient up front as this one.
Fred, seemingly the best Brazil have got, must be their worst No 9 in a generation. Although he repaid the faith Scolari showed in him in the Confederations Cup last year with five goals, the 30-year-old has been poor since, scoring once for Brazil in the last 12 months. His club side, Fluminense, should have been relegated last season but were spared on a technicality.
Against Croatia, in the opening game in Sao Paulo, he was dismal. His one contribution, such as it was, being to fall over in the vicinity of Dejan Lovren, for which Brazil were awarded the penalty that put them in front.
That should have been warning enough but Fred kept his place against Mexico, the injured Hulk being the only casualty from the opening day. The performance, against a brilliantly organised Mexico side, was far worse.
Fred needed to be at his sharpest to unsettle Mexico’s three centre-backs but was alarmingly immobile. On the rare occasions he lumbered towards goal, he was inevitably caught offside. Fred left the 22-year-old Neymar carrying the hopes of the nation, running into a forest of red shirts time after time.
The Brazilian media were understandably unimpressed. Fred was awarded an average score of 4.2, only Paulinho, with 3.7 did worse. “You only noticed him when he got taken off,” wrote Roberto Assaf, awarding him four in Lance! “He didn’t lead the line, and as for his goalscoring…”
Eduardo Tirone was just as harsh, condemning his lack of movement, also awarding him four: “Didn’t even manage to create a penalty this time. Absent on the pitch, even while trying to move more.”
It was that immobility that was the really damning aspect of Fred’s performance. Caio Carrieri, who awarded a generous 4.5, bemoaned Fred’s reluctance to do anything to unsettle Rafael Marquez’s band of five: “Very fixed in his position, unable to give team-mates options or open up Mexico’s defence.”
There was a slight improvement when Jo came on for Fred with 22 minutes to go, the Atletico Mineiro striker willing, at the very least, to show for the ball and try to run in behind the Mexico back-line. He is not a great player but does look far more comfortable in his own game now, having won the Copa Libertadores with Atletico last year, than he did during his difficult time in England with Manchester City and Everton.
But Jo is not exactly an inspiring alternative and is still far away from the required standard. He is even, like Fred, far away from what they had in 2010, when Brazil took a powerful and assertive Luis Fabiano, scoring goals for Seville, with them to South Africa. Scolari could use Hulk through the middle, but has been reluctant to so far, and use Ramires as a stand-in on the right.
That did not work well – Ramires came off for Bernard at half-time, who did not offer much more. Scolari should shuffle his pack again before their last group game, their next chance to find a way to keep the dream alive.Reuse content