Brazil’s 7-1 loss to Germany was unprecedented for the World Cup. Conceding five first half goals brought about memories of Poland thrashing Haiti 7-0 back in 1974, when the Poles netted their first five goals within 34 minutes.
Although it was the worst defeat in international games for Brazil, the only country to have played in all FIFA World Cups, and it was an astonishing scoreline, it was not completely unexpected. In fact, being Brazil in a World Cup does not always mean playing beautiful football. After this humiliating loss, one question remains to be answered: is this the worst Brazil ever to have played in a World Cup?
The 1990 Team
Usually, the debate about the worst World Cup team Brazil have ever had is focused around the 1974 and 1990 Seleçãos. Is this team worse than those two sides? The 1990 squad was the first attempt for Brazil to instill a much more European defensive game plan into their national team.
After the failed 1982 and 1986 campaigns, Joga Bonito seemed to be dead. The Brazilian Federation tried to replace it with a new, more defensive approach. The man charged with doing it and hopefully making it a smooth transition was Sebastiao
Lazaroni. Lazaroni’s 1990 team became the first Brazil ever that would be “playing for results” and the first ever to flirt with a three-man back line. For Brazilian fans it was a shock: in a country that was born and raised on zonal marking principles, to see a sweeper in their backline was almost a trauma.
Lazaroni was appointed as Brazil National Team manager in early 1989. The coach had not won any significant titles before the appointment but he was hired to bring in the discipline and tactical organisation of the top European teams. Lazaroni was convinced that the lack of defence was the reason Brazil hadn’t won a World Cup since 1970. Things started well as Brazil were able to win the South American Championship in 1989. Lazaroni left at home the Brazilian principles of nice football. Things were changed from the early ‘80s…now, the result was the only thing that mattered.
At Italy 1990, despite a poor performance in the group, Brazil managed to win all the initial three games by just one goal margins and got through the group stage. Lazaroni’s introduction of a sweeper in Mauro Galvao and his tactical approach wasn’t funny but still worked. His dreams were broken in the second round. Brazil faced a weak Argentina side. With an out of shape Diego Maradona and forward Claudio Caniggia the only real offensive weapons, the Argentinians were looked at as an easy scalp for Brazil. Maradona disagreed.
In fact, Maradona was nullified for 80 minutes, then set up the decisive assist for Caniggia as the defending champions was
able to advance. At the end of the game, El Pibe de Oro had stolen the show once again while Brazil were knocked out of the World Cup.
It was enough for the Brazilians. Lazaroni’s experiment was abruptly ended as the coach was fired after the game. The 1990 team was described as rich in talent, featuring an outstanding goalkeeper in Claudio Taffarel; two skillful overlapping full-backs in Jorginho of Bayer Leverkusen, and Branco of Porto; excellent centre-backs as Olympique Marseille’s Mozer, considered among the best defenders in Europe and captain Ricardo Gomes; a solid midfield unit with Dunga, Alemão and Valdo, Benfica’s No. 10; two talented forwards such as Muller and Careca, the then 29-year-old forward partner of Maradona with Naples.
On the bench, there was Romario, the top forward of PSV Eindhoven, and Bebeto, the diminutive forward of Vasco da Gama. On the field, that side never lived up to its hype. They were defined as the lost Lazaroni Generation. Despite their poor performances, this group was sensibly better than Scolari’s side in term of overall quality. They paid for Lazaroni’s overtly defensive approach. Although they were sent home early, it was against Maradona and still after Brazil dominated the game collecting 11 shots and 11 corner kicks. Also, in Dunga, Bebeto, Romario, Jorginho, Branco, and Taffarel they had a bunch of players that constituted the core of the victorious 1994 side.
The 1974 side
The second team to consider when you are to pick the worst Brazil World Cup team ever is the 1974 side. Brazil was approaching the World Cup as defending champions.
It was the second team in a row coached by Zagallo but the first without Mexican heroes Pelé, Gerson, Carlos Alberto Torres, Tostão and Clodoaldo. Brazil were forced to made some tactical adjustments in West Germany as they, as was the
whole world, were unprepared to face Dutch.
Already in the group stage Brazil were a shadow of the 1970 team: the 0- 0 draw against Scotland was described by some analysts as one of the worst World Cup game ever. Brazil was still able enough to get through the group stage. Things went south next round. The 1974 set-up bypassed the classic quarter-final and semi-final matchups in favour of two play-off groups of four teams, with the winners set to play the final. The Dutch dominated all over the pitch against Brazil as they earned an easy 2-0 win.
Brazil was beaten but still managed to end the tournament in the fourth place, after a last second 1-0 defeat of Poland. But it was no longer the Brazil of 1970, as many starters were forced to quit due to injury or age, and Brazil had become a more careful side under Zagallo as the new head coach favoured a more cautious approach.
Zagallo’s thoughts were based much more in individual tools than in tactics, but the 1974 team could even rely on Jairzinho and Rivelino in the middle of the pitch, while Paulo Cesar Caju and Dirceu added decent offensive flair. Netminder Leao and defenders Nelinho, Luis Pereira, Marinho Peres, and Marinho Chagas anchored a decent backline while Edu, Valdomiro, and Leivinha were other options up front.
The final verdict
Brazil have failed to live to their hype all this 2014 tournament. Some great performances made by their much loved son, Neymar, masked the deficiencies of Luis Scolari’s side. Germany brutally exposed all their weaknesses. Brazil is psychologically fragile, with a poor defence and an inadequate attack.
There is little behind Neymar: Hulk is a good but overrated winger; Oscar is highly rated for his defensive skills but he’s not a classic Brazilian No. 10, light years away from the legacy of Zico or Rai at least; in Paulinho, Luis Gustavo and Fernandinho they have two good box-to-box midfielders and a decent playmaker but none holding midfielder; David Luiz is a hyped-up centre-back not bearing comparison to the best, such as Aldair.