By Christian Hume
Caribbean News Now contributor
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad -- Former Trinidad and Tobago World Cup centre-half Brent Sancho has suggested tongue-in-cheek that Neymar may yet make a dramatic appearance for Brazil before the World Cup is over, and if there is even the most remote possibility of that happening, I won’t bet against it – such is the young man’s driving desire to represent his country in this World Cup on home soil. However, if Neymar were to be unable to represent Brazil further in this tournament, it would not be the first time that Brazil would have lost their talisman in mid-stream.
In 1962, Pele snapped a thigh muscle in their second game against Czechoslovakia after having scored a wonder goal in the 2-0 win against a very good Mexican side in Brazil first game – beating five defenders, and then the great goalkeeper Carbajal. He hobbled through the remainder of that second game against Czechoslovakia, the final result a 0-0 draw. He would see no further action in the tournament. The Santos superstar was replaced in the forward line by Botafogo starlet Amarildo, who promptly proceeded to score a double that allowed Brazil to come from behind to beat Spain 2-1, both goals coming from headers off crosses from his Botafogo team-mates Zagalo and Garrincha, the winner coming with four minutes left to play. Garrincha then scored two majestic doubles in consecutive games; in the 3-1 quarter-final victory over England, and in the 4-2 semi-final victory over the hosts Chile. Pele’s replacement Amarildo then scored one of Brazil’s goals in the 3-1 victory of Czechoslovakia in the final. Brazil had won the cup without Pele.
Thirty-six years later, and Mario ‘Lobo’ Zagalo who had played such a key role in Brazil’s Pele-less victory in 1962 was now the coach of the national team, his second stint in the role, having lead Brazil to victory as coach in 1970 – a tournament in which his 1962 midfield colleague Didi coached new kids on the block Peru, who Brazil beat 4-2 in an entertaining quarter-final. In 1998 in France, for reasons that remain mysterious to this day, talisman Ronaldo – then in ripping form – contracted a mysterious illness, suffering epileptic seizures.
Having lived through the 1962 experience, Zagalo thought nothing of not naming Ronaldo on the scoresheet. Ronaldo wanted to play, but he was clearly not fit. Zagalo was willing to go with Edmundo, who was in very good form himself, but the players would have none of it. Zagalo tried to remind his players that they had won the World Cup without Pele in 1962, and he probably tried to give them some personal perspective on the matter, having then been a key player himself. The Brazilian players however would not listen – going as far as insisting that they would not take the field without Ronaldo’s name on the team sheet. Zagalo relented, and sent out a clearly unfit Ronaldo to play in a final in which he would have no impact. Brazil lost 3-0, becoming the first team in the Cup’s history to not score in the Final. The star of the day was Frenchman Zinedine Zidane, who would go on from this game to become one of the all-time legends of the sport.
Sixteen years after the 1998 debacle, Brazil is faced with a similar situation, and the history couldn’t be richer. Like Zagalo then, Luis Felipe Scolari has already won the World Cup with Brazil as coach in 2002, a tournament in which Ronaldo was able to exorcise the demons of 1998 with a Golden Boot performance. Sancho’s conjecture aside, Neymar’s absence seems to be enforced, as Pele’s was in 1962. The good thing is that whereas in 1998 Ronaldo became sick on the morning of the Final, on this occasion there is time for the team to adjust – to adjust tactics, to adjust players, but most importantly, to adjust mentality. Neymar’s injury should therefore not be the cataclysmic event that Ronaldo’s mystery illness was.
It can be argued, and not without some merit that Brazil ’14 is no comparison to Brazil ’62 in terms of depth of squad to replace an injured superstar. In 1962 there was Garrincha, a superstar in his own right, on the same plane as Pele and in the opinion of many on an even higher plane. Vava was an efficient and noiseless goalscoring machine alongside the more spectacular Pele; and Amarildo, well, he rose to the occasion in a manner that somebody or bodies on this Brazil side will have to do. This time around there is simply no telling where Brazil’s goals will come from, with Fred and Hulk seemingly not clicking, and it’s anyone’s guess as to who if anyone will “do the Amarildo” in the absence of Neymar.
If in 2014, centre-half and captain Thiago Silva is out suspended to be replaced more than likely by Dante, in 1962 regular centre-half and captain Luis Bellini was replaced at the start of the tournament by Mauro, who assumed the captain’s armband as well; and with Neymar out, don’t be surprised if David Luis the other center-half is handed the captain's armband on Tuesday. If in 2014 right back Daniel Alves has been replaced by Maicon, in 1958 when Brazil won its first world title, right-back Orlando played the entire tournament up to the Final when he was replaced by Djalma Santos, who had figured prominently in the previous tournament in 1954; Santos having been brought back with a special emphasis on snuffing out the rampaging Swedish forward line that had demolished West Germany 3-1 in the semi-final. In 2014 there has been a lot of news about psychologists being brought in to deal with the Brazilian players, 1958 marked the first occasion on which Brazil employed the use of a psychologist as part of the World Cup team.
In 1958, West Germany lost the semi-final to the hosts Sweden, and the united Germany lost their 2006 semi-final as hosts to eventual winners Italy. They would be keen to avoid a 1958 repeat, and instead wish to inflict upon Brazil that which Italy inflicted upon them in 2006.
By all informed accounts, there is much more to this Brazil team, glimpses of which were seen in the 2-1 quarter-final victory over Colombia. With Neymar absent, they would have to dig to find it, and they would have to dig deep to sustain it against a rampant Germany outfit who will run them hard down to the very last nano-second, whatever the score. Without a doubt, Zagalo must surely be lurking somewhere in the wings ready and waiting to be consulted by Felipao – the two may even be speaking as you read… ‘El Lobo’ may even be speaking to the players themselves. There is a psychologist on board. The players are becoming hungrier.
Let’s see what happens on Tuesday.