World Cup 2018: Until they overcome their inner demons, Brazil will never get back to their best

'We need to take responsibility and our heads have to be in the right place,' Philippe Coutinho admitted ahead of the match against Costa Rica

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Friday 22 June 2018 07:21 BST
Brazil World Cup profile

Having been one of the few Brazilian players to actually produce in the side’s disappointing opening game, Philippe Coutinho was also one of the few to produce some sense in the aftermath.

“We need to take responsibility and our heads have to be in the right place,” the playmaker said.

It’s just that isn’t really a mindset that many in the squad seem to be following. Although so much of the talk around Brazil has been about transforming the psychology of the national side after that 7-1, so much of the reaction to the opening 1-1 draw against Switzerland has actually been reminiscent of much of the rest of the 2014 World Cup. There’s mostly been moaning, complaints about the opposition and officials, excuse-making and just a general refusal to take responsibility.

All of this culminated in Fifa’s firm rejection of a Brazilian complaint about the minimal use of video review in that first game. The federation - in a three-page letter written by team co-ordinator and former player, Edu - argued that better use of VAR would have avoided “clear” refereeing mistakes, and revealed that their request for the audio used by match officials was denied by Fifa. The world governing body themselves responded with a letter jointly written by deputy general secretary Zvonimar Boban and the head of Fifa’s Referees’ Committee, emphasising there were “no clear and obvious errors” in the match.

So much for their heads being in the “right place”, as Coutinho argued. This instead felt like entirely the wrong reaction, with Neymar again personifying the team but for the wrong reasons, since the infantilism of his performance seemed to be reflected in the infantilism of Brazil’s response.

The bottom line is that, as with 2014, it is a mindset that doesn’t exactly encourage a cold willingness to face up to problems that are there in the team.

You don’t really do that if any setback is always someone else’s fault. It also sends out entirely the wrong message, since it shows you can be got at.

Tite has been attempting to change Brazil’s psyche though it can still feel like he’s struggling against the tide on the big occasions like the World Cup, even if their surge in qualifying obviously means he has had substantial - if not complete - success.

Coutinho has said that Brazil's 'heads have to be in the right place' (Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS)

Realistically, Brazil should have enough to beat a Costa Rica side who are themselves not at the level they were in 2014, but there are still questions over whether they will do so in any kind of convincing manner - and whether they can do it at all.

‘Should’, after all, does not mean ‘definitely will’. And, as good as Switzerland were in the opening game with what Stephan Lichsteiner described as a “perfect” defensive game, the nature of Brazil’s display was so disappointing that it’s difficult not to have more doubts. They were not just lacking in any spark or power, but often seemed physically bullied and not quite right in formation. There are many senior football figures around the World Cup now wondering if they were “overrated” ahead of the competition.

Whatever the truth of that, the way the Swiss frustrated them has emboldened Costa Rica.

"Switzerland pressed them in midfield and that's what you need to do because everybody knows that Brazil are best from midfield going forward,” captain Bryan Ruiz said. "We need to win the ball back quickly and counter-attack quickly.”

Tite still has a lot to do to fully repair Brazil's fragile psyche (Getty Images)

That thought process also illustrates how many have noticed the clear gaps in the Brazil side, although it was impossible not to.

They are gaps that only become more apparent when a self-indulgent Neymar tries to take as much as possible out of the ball and embarrass defenders, rather than just play and propel the kind of forceful approach that did initially mark Brazil apart.

It might have been a problem solved for the side in a manner they didn’t want, given the injury doubts about Neymar following the Swiss game. He insists he’s fine, even if he still won’t be 100 per cent right, but the real key is now that mindset Coutinho referenced.

That will involving putting all the noise behind them. It will involve getting back on the front foot, growing up and stepping up.

Brazil really don’t want to be going into an awkward last match against Serbia needing a win. There’s only one way to prevent that, and that’s to take responsibility in the only way you really can.

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