Why is Brazil so good at soccer? Explaining reasons behind South … – Sporting News
As has so often been the case before the start of World Cup tournaments, Brazil was the warm favorite to win the 2022 edition before it proved its credentials during the early stages this time around.
Brazil’s five World Cup titles meant it knew its record would not be broken once the group stage was over. Italy has won the World Cup four times but was not at the finals, while Germany, who also has four to its name, departed in the group stage. Argentina, Uruguay and France have a mere two triumphs each.
Selecao legend Pele popularised the term ‘joga bonito’ — the beautiful game — and that legacy continued in a swaggering 4-1 thrashing of South Korea in the Round of 16, played out by a Brazil squad with the potential to field two teams who would be considered equally likely to conquer all in Qatar.
Why is Brazil so good? Who are some of the names to have built its reputation for brilliance? Let’s take a look at the leading lights in international football.
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Perhaps the best way to begin explaining Brazil’s success would be to start by examining the accuracy of the traditional stereotypes around the nation’s football team.
In the inspired piece of 1998 Nike marketing, which is considered by some to be the best football commercial of all time, Brazil’s players are portrayed as carefree freestylers who balletically flip, dance and trick their way through the tightest and most unexpected of spaces with abundant flair, improvisation and vibrancy.
The joy the advert was intended to bristle with is a key aspect of Brazil’s football character — singing and dancing before matches is seen as an important show of confidence from players — but the implied dearth of defensive steel and ‘dark arts’ adds up to a convenient caricature providing a fundamentally incomplete picture of the foundations that make Brazil great.
When he was asked about the misperceptions surrounding them, South American football expert Tim Vickery called out the idea that Brazil “don’t care about defence” and deal entirely in “happy-go-lucky samba stuff”.
The game against South Korea was the 30th in a row in which Brazil had conceded one goal or less, a run stretching back more than 25 months and including 20 clean sheets. Brazil scored a maximum of one goal in almost half of those games, and while head coach Tite has hardly held their attacking talent back, the two-time Brazilian Serie A winner was known as a defensive manager before taking over in 2016, most notably for the way he set up Corinthians when they won the Copa Libertadores four years earlier.
“This is the country that invented the back four,” Vickery told TCS. “The first time they used it was the World Cup in 1958 — they didn’t concede a goal until the semifinal.”
Brazil’s mastery of miserliness resulted in three of its five triumphs arriving in the four tournaments from 1958. It was partly a response to the despair the nation felt at losing the 1950 final to Uruguay, which it followed up by losing 4-2 to Hungary in 1954 after edging past Yugoslavia to reach the quarterfinals.
“The idea also that in Brazil football is all about expressing yourself… just couldn’t possibly be further wrong,” added Vickery.
“I do a weekly TV show over here on Brazilian TV and, as the presenter always says, our national sport isn’t football; our national sport is applauding the winners.”
The concept of Brazilians being imperilled to excel at street football in order to escape the poorest neighbourhoods of the country — the favelas — is also only a partial truth. The academy systems at Brazilian clubs place exacting standards on new talents from a young age, drawing from a population of 214 million people in a country more obsessed with football than any other.
“Football in Brazil is like a religion,” said Carlos Alberto Torres, the captain of the World Cup-winning Brazil team in 1970 and the scorer of arguably the greatest international goal ever, dubbed as the one responsible for “defining Brazil to the rest of the world”.
“This is the difference between Europe and Brazil,” he added to the BBC. “After the World Cup, people in Europe start to think about life, business. Here in Brazil, we breathe football 24 hours a day.”
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Former Republic of Ireland coach Brian Kerr told the outlet that Brazil’s central shape, which he described as 2-2-2-2 with high fullbacks, is unique. Carlos Alberto Parreira, the manager responsible for their World Cup win in 1994 and Copa America victory 10 years later, said players are given freedom before being built and developed at clubs.
“You go to the schools and you see the kids saying ‘I want to be like Ronaldo or Pele or Zico’,” said Torres. “They are examples to the kids, and we have lots of them, not only one or two. We say in Brazil that a great player is born every day.”
Of the 10 players voted the best of the 20th century by FIFA’s grand jury and its magazine readers, three were Brazilian, with Pele earning almost 73 percent to win by a landslide — he was the only nominee to take more than 10 percent of the vote. The accompanying internet poll placed six Brazilians inside the top 12, with three inside the leading seven. Here are some of the best.
Manuel Francisco dos Santos was the winger who stepped up in style when Pele was injured during the 1962 tournament, winning the player of the tournament and Golden Boot awards as he secured a second successive World Cup with his country. The Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha is named after him and he came seventh in that FIFA Player of the Century vote in 1999.
A complete attacker who prospered most effectively after succeeding Garrincha on the right wing for Brazil and club side Botafogo, Jair Ventura Filho became as familiar to viewers for his afro hairstyle as his thrilling skill and power at three successive World Cup tournaments. He rattled in seven goals in the second of those, in 1970, and would have won the Golden Boot on that occasion but for the 10 scored by Germany great Gerd Muller.
Regarded by many as the greatest player of all time and the recipient of that accolade from FIFA alongside Diego Maradona, Edson Arantes do Nascimento’s influence reaches beyond sport. The former leading international goalscorer of all time won the World Cup in 1958, 1962 and 1970, and Brazil’s current squad have paid tribute to him on the pitch in Qatar amid reports that he has recently required medical care again following chemotherapy in 2021.
An intelligent attacker and prolific partner to Pele, the diminutive Eduardo Goncalves de Andrade played at the 1966 and 1970 finals, setting up four goals as Brazil triumphed in Mexico. He scored 19 times in one purple patch between June 1968 and August 1969, including two hat-tricks in the same month against Venezuela in World Cup qualification matches.
Part of the reason why (deep breath) Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira was known as ‘Doctor Socrates’ came from his possession of a medical degree. The Brazil captain at the 1982 World Cup is perhaps the coolest footballer of all time, scoring 22 times in 60 appearances during an international career that also took in the 1986 finals, where he was way ahead of his time in taking a penalty without a run-up. Just don’t remind the midfielder that he tried the same trick against France at the tournament and failed to score.
A particular inspiration for the likes of Kaka and Neymar, Zico was a ruthless finisher and visionary passer who played at the 1978, 1982 and 1986 World Cups and is among the highest goalscorers from direct free-kicks of all time. Arthur Antunes Coimbra passed on some of his genius during a nomadic managerial career that has included the Japan and Iraq national teams, Fenerbahce and Olympiacos.
The FIFA World Player of the Year in 2004 and 2005 and the Ballon d’Or winner in the second of those years, mischievous attacker Ronaldinho was a pivotal figure in Brazil’s Copa America-winning side of 1999 and World Cup triumph three years later, as well as winning the UEFA Champions League with Barcelona in 2006. Ronaldo de Assis Moreira’s taste for flamboyancy continues off the pitch, where his distinctive smile and dress sense makes him one of the most instantly recognisable Brazilians of modern times.
Before Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi began their domination of the most prestigious individual award in football, then-AC Milan magician Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite knocked the Portugal superstar into a distant second and the Argentina great into an equally chasmic third in the 2007 Ballon d’Or voting. Also an outstanding creator for Real Madrid during his club career, the midfielder broke into Brazil’s team in time to be a prized part of the 2002 World Cup-winning squad and featured at the 2006 and 2010 finals, averaging almost a goal every three games across the best part of 100 international appearances.
At the age of 21, Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima had broken the transfer record, won the World Cup and lifted the Ballon d’Or and FIFA Player of the Year awards. What he would have achieved had he not been beset by knee injuries after that point remains as daunting a prospect as his pace and finishing were to defenders, but it is probably enough to say that he is the second-highest World Cup goalscorer of all time, three ahead of Pele and one behind record-holder Miroslav Klose, who played five games more than Ronaldo at the finals.
The 30-year-old would probably have to play in the next two tournaments to do it, but Neymar da Silva Santos Junior’s seven World Cup goals give the Paris Saint-Germain forward a chance of overtaking Klose — although that might be reliant on him avoiding too many more injury scares of the kind that have already caused him to miss games in Qatar as a result of over-zealous treatment from his markers. More immediately, the most expensive player in the world will surpass Pele’s record of 77 for his country if he scores two more goals.
You may have noticed one common theme among the players we’ve mentioned: all of them have very long full names, while the monikers they go by are shortened versions.
There’s been a fair amount of theorising about why that is over the years, including nods to a more convivial, relaxed culture in Brazil and the preference among some families to give children a single named derived from those of their relatives.
The fundamental answer is that these condensed names are nicknames. Some of them appear to have very little similarity to the player’s full name — see Pele — and others have a more direct correlation.
It shouldn’t be overlooked that this tradition makes the working week a lot easier for shirt-printers, as well as fans paying for each letter of their favourite player’s name to be added to the back of their replicas.
No discussion of the innate drive Brazilians seem to have to be exceptional footballers is complete without mention of one of the incentives being a move to Europe, where the major leagues have a much higher profile and are far more lucrative than Brazil’s Serie A.
Brazil is the greatest exporter of footballers in the world, with 1,219 Brazilians playing abroad in 2022, according to Statista.
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The site says that Portugal is their most popular destination ahead of Japan, while Albania, Azerbaijan, Angola, Kazakhstan and San Marino are among the long list of countries named by Soccerway as being home to Brazilian players. Clubs such as Shakhtar Donetsk have also become renowned for offering Brazilians a route to Europe, although conflict in Ukraine since 2014 has evidently had an effect on such transfers.
Pele spent a predictably prolific period with the New York Cosmos between 1975 and 1977 and Socrates turned out for Italian side Fiorentina before returning to Brazil, resurfacing in Europe with a single game for English non-league side Garforth Town at the age of 60.
Ronaldo shone for Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter Milan, while the likes of Thiago Silva and Marquinhos have ensured it hasn’t all been about Neymar in recent years in France.
Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino won a fan poll by the Premier League to identify the best ever Brazilian player in the division, but not all of the country’s exports have elicited the famous chant of “it’s just like watching Brazil” when teams take supporters’ collective breath away in England.
Defender David Luiz was often ridiculed despite being a regular for Chelsea and Arsenal, and others, such as Kleberson at Manchester United, have made minimal impact at best.
There were 34 Brazilians in the Champions League Round of 16 last season, according to Sambafoot, which said that the country accounted for the most players participating in that first knockout stage outside European nations.
You could also make a decent starting 11 from the numerous players to have been born in Brazil but played for other countries, including Portugal legend Deco, Spain striker Diego Costa and Italy players Jorginho, Emerson Palmieri and Rafael Toloi, who were all part of the Italy squad that won Euro 2020.
Brazil has won the World Cup on five of the seven occasions when it has reached the final. It has also hosted the tournament twice, in 1950 and 2014.
* Top goalscorer of that year’s World Cup