Brazil prepare for World Cup party without floundering Olympic generation


With squads for the 2014 World Cup being unveiled on an almost-hourly basis this week, excitement for the tournament is understandably building to fever pitch.

By now, all of the favourites – plus England – have shown their hands, even if most have opted to name 30 players at this stage, delaying the announcement of the final 23.

While it is a time of excitement for many players, others are being forced to deal with the disappointment of missing out.

 Those who went off the boil this season (Roberto Soldado), were unable to maintain their form for longer than a couple of months (Andros Townsend, also injured) or found their progress hampered by injury (Sandro – there seems to be a pattern emerging here…) will have to make do with a summer holiday and a few hundred hours glued to their televisions.

 For every veteran like Ronaldinho who was never genuinely in the running, there were two or three whose frustration was entirely justified: Filipe Luís and Miranda of Atlético Madrid, for instance, or Liverpool pair Lucas Leiva and Philippe Coutinho. A couple of those players, if not more, would surely be going to the World Cup if they were available for any other nation.

 Yet as Brazilians pored over and dissected Scolari’s 23 (Tom Jobim once remarked that Brazil has 150 million national team coaches), one group of players was notable by its absence from the debate.

 In 2012, the Seleção pitched up in the UK in search of the one major honour that had hitherto eluded Brazil. Technically, this was but an under-23 side, but anyone who was anyone knew that Mano Menezes was taking the London Olympic games more seriously than most.

 Even his decision to take charge of the side himself spoke volumes: Menezes, installed as Brazil coach after the disastrous 2010 World Cup campaign, was clearly building for the future.

 He had travelled with the Under-20 side that won the South American Championship in Peru, attempting to establish a more reliable path from the youth set-up to the first team. A number of the players who starred for that side were drafted into the Olympic squad.

 This was supposed to be the coming of age of a new generation. It certainly felt new and fresh; I was present at the Olympic Village in Stratford when Neymar and pals dropped by to see the rest of the Brazilian Olympic team, and the atmosphere was one of wide-eyed optimism. The youngsters posed for photos with a group of hockey players from the Netherlands; Sandro picked up an acoustic guitar and led an impromptu sing-along.

 On the field, too, things went well: Brazil breezed to the final and looked confident of ending their hoodoo. But Mexico triumphed in the Wembley final, Rafael’s early error setting the tone for an afternoon of disappointment.

 With a couple of notable exceptions, the Olympic group has failed to progress to the senior side as expected. Of the 18 who travelled to the UK, only five are in the squad for the World Cup, three of which – Hulk, Marcelo, Thiago Silva – were designated over-23s anyway. Neymar and Oscar are the only true graduates.

 Granted, some of the remaining players might not have expected to make the step up for 2014. Goalkeepers Gabriel and Neto are very much works-in-progress, while full-backs Danilo and Alex Sandro (both now at Porto) will come into contention for the next World Cup.

 Yet the travails of Alexandre Pato, Leandro Damião, Paulo Henrique Ganso and Lucas Moura speak of a generation that has lost its way somewhat. All four would have been in the reckoning for the World Cup had you conducted a straw poll in 2012, but there was little or no clamour for their inclusion this summer.

 Ganso and Damião have thus far failed to live up to their promise. The former has been hampered by injuries and his own truculence, while Damião – who came to the professional game via Sunday league football rather than through an academy system – has been found out somewhat.

 Lucas, who reacted to the news of his exclusion with by quoting the bible on Twitter (“everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world”), has seen his reputation fluctuate in his homeland since moving to Paris Saint-Germain. He remains a player of wonderful moments rather than a wonderful player. Pato, meanwhile, continues to struggle back in Brazil, over a year since his return from Europe.

 The door hasn’t closed on any of these players – nor on Rômulo or Juan Jesus – forever. All are 24 or younger, after all. But all have contrived to miss out the World Cup, which seemed unthinkable during the haze of that Olympic summer.

 Brazil’s bright future is slightly different to the one promised in 2012.


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