The Confederations Cup now playing in Brazil is window dressing. It is a rehearsal to test out the hosts ability to stage next years World Cup in front of a population that has lived on memories for most of their lives.
Brazilians dream of Jogo Bonito,the Beautiful Game. They cannot escape the past,and not simply because the likes of Pelé and Tostão are commentators reminding them that things now are not what they were in their day.
But maybe there is one player,one modern icon,who can live up to their past. Neymar,just 21,has to step up now or he may never fulfill his potential.
On Saturday,the expectations were heaped even higher on this slender,rich and extravagantly gifted young man. He was expected to transcend Brazils first competitive game in 23 months,expected to dazzle,expected to restore an element of the footwork of the gods of Jogo Bonito. He came mighty close to that.
So steeped is Brazil in the great players of yesteryear that the newly remodeled stadium in the capital of Brasilia carries the name Estádio Mané Garrincha. Garrincha,the little bird, was a wizard on the wing. His creativity,his scoring talent and his teamwork were up there with Pelés. Neymar is compared with Pelé because they started their careers at the same club,Santos. But if anything,Neymars sorcery,the quick movements and his elusiveness with the ball are more reminiscent of Garrincha.
Before the opening game against Japan,coach,Luiz Felipe Scolari,met the expectations head-on. Neymar is 21, Scolari said. He is an idol to the fans,and he is my idol too. He is someone who can dictate the game. But,the wily coach added,Neymar will get better when he learns to be a team player.
Present vs past
There you have the crux of the dilemma. 2013 is not 1958 or 1962,when Garrincha was in his prime. Brazils national team can no longer prepare for tournaments in a camp high above Rio de Janeiro,where the players used to spend three months in isolated preparation,learning team play.
Scolaris selection of players is still gifted. But those players,that migration,means they are scattered,learning other countries ways,styles and disciplines. Because Brazil does not have to qualify for this World Cup,Scolari meets his players on the road,where they play exhibitions in between plane rides.
Unsurprisingly,Scolari,reverts to old habits,to the style he put together to win the 2002 World Cup. His taste is condemned by many as too coarse,too lacking in Jogo Bonito,to represent Brazil. His answer is that Brazil needs,now more than ever,to win. He chooses full-backs who rush down the flanks like wingers. His midfielders are workhorses. His attackers are offered a license to act impulsively. Hence the Neymar debate,hence the fact that the most exotic player of this generation is told to try every trick in his imagination,but also get back and help the defense when it is troubled.
It required three minutes on Saturday to see what he could do. Marcelo,the left back,set off a counterattack with a diagonal pass onto the chest of Fred,the big striker. Fred simply flexed his pectorals,dropped the ball down at the feet of Neymar and he let impulse guide him.
Neymar leaned toward his left side,with his head perfectly placed over the ball. He allowed it one bounce and then,using the instep of his right foot,guided it like a dart into the top corner of the goal. A textbook finish. Garrincha,bless him,might have scored that goal,but very few others could.