Mark Wignall: Has Brazil Lost that Sweet Magic?

Jamaica News: For more than a few moments while watching the Brazil 2018 squad in its opening match with Switzerland, I allowed my mind to wander at will and at its most feverish imaginings, I saw what was not there – flashes of the best Brazilian squad (1982) that never made it to the semi-finals.

That squad included names like Socrates, Falcao, Zico, Oscar, Eder, Serginho. I wanted Neymar to rekindle the duppies of my past but I feared that Jamaica would once again go into mourning like that fateful day in 1982 when Italy downed the much fancied and fantastically mighty Brazil.

I confess that when it comes to World Cup football, I am romantically linked to Brazil but, in 2018 I fear that it is a romance that seems headed to, hitting the rocks hard and, heartbreak.

Coutinho’s 25-yard sudden bullet of a shot was something that some footballers of the highest order only dream of. I thought it was a signal from Brazil that something special was about to happen. The magic was again found. How wrong I was.

The Swiss were never going to be pushovers but again I saw flashes of that magical Brazil where its possession of the ball was purely decided on its own terms and its territorial incursions into and around scoring distance was designed to frustrate and break down the opposing side.

All of that changed at the beginning of the second half and I was awakened to a Brazilian side which did not show the character needed to stand up under pressure when the Swiss Zuber headed in from a corner to score the equalizer. Granted I firmly believe that Zuber deliberately pushed Miranda and a foul should have been called and the goal disallowed.

That did not happen. As pumped up as the Swiss side became I expected Brazil to call on the magic of the past. Sure we know it would be a hard sell to expect the spirit of a 1960’s Pele to wander out onto the field and give his 2018 teammates that special character needed to forge ahead, even when the opposing side is pumped up on constant rushes of adrenalin and a belief that they are giant killers.

Although Neymar, the most expensive footballer on the planet, seemed set on a mission to underutilize himself by holding the ball too long and attracting attacks and the inevitable fouls, it was in contrast to another player couched in cosmic terms, Lionel Messi of Argentina.

In the match against Iceland, I wanted Messi to do more with the ball instead of passing it off to another player. I didn’t mind him doing that in the midfield but as the play advanced into the goal territory of Iceland, it seemed to be that Messi’s Argentinian teammates were showing an unwillingness to feed him back the ball at crucial moments.

It was probably the correct move on Messi’s part but there were no results to show from it.  One, he would not have possession of the ball long enough to attract body-crushing attacks and fouls and two, it would create confusion in the minds of the Iceland players as to exactly what was the strategy around Messi and the expected magic from him.

In Neymar’s case he exercised selfishness in his play, seeing too much of an I in TEAM and in the end, his prima donna-like attitude came off looking pedestrian and with no hint of Brazilian magic or what his reputation promised.

Then again, it is only the first game. Maybe the magic is set to come but only in our minds as our expectations become tempered by the reality of the relative evenness in skills of just about all of the teams in 2018.

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