Wednesday 07 August 2019, 22:57

Brazil are back

  • Brazil’s Copa America conquest has lifted them second on the global ladder

  • A reinvigorated veteran is desperate to play at Qatar 2022

  • Neymar believes they're on the right path

There was no getting away from it. The 2010s had been the worst decade in Brazil’s glorious history.

Quarter-final exits at South Africa 2010 and Russia 2018 sandwiched a FIFA World Cup™ on home soil in which they suffered that 7-1 defeat by Germany. Its first three Copa America tournaments involved back-to-back quarter-final exits to Paraguay and the mortification of not even escaping the group stage at USA 2016.

The only nation to have never been outside the top ten on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking in its first two decades – Brazil had only been below sixth for one brief month in August 1993, when they were eighth – fell to an unimaginable low of 22nd in 2013, behind the likes of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ecuador, Ghana and Greece.

Gone were bona fide megastars of the decade previous in Kaka, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Adriano and Ronaldo. When Neymar, the only Brazilian to threaten conquering The Best FIFA Men’s Player this decade, was ruled out of a Copa America they were to stage, the winds of pessimism blew into a gale.

Brazil, however, beat fierce enemies Argentina 2-0 at the Mineirao – the scene of that aforementioned German-inflicted nadir – to reach the final having scored ten goals and conceded zero. Thereafter, a 3-1 overpowering of Peru at the Maracana saw Dani Alves lift the trophy for A Seleção for the first time since the same player inspired a 3-0 victory over La Albiceleste in the 2007 decider.

It ensured the record five-time world champions would finish the 2010s on a high. It also elevated A Seleção to second on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking above World Cup holders France, a fast-emerging England and UEFA EURO and UEFA Nations League champions Portugal.

Brazil’s short-term sights are now on a Belgium side just 20 points to their north. Their longer-term ones are fixated on ending what will be a 20-year wait for glory at Qatar 2022.

Finally, there’s belief Brazil have the individuals to realise that goal. Everton Cebolinha’s electrifying dribbles got his name chanted incessantly by the fans, while he finished as the Copa America’s joint-leading marksman. “It’s him, Neymar and nine others,” said Tite about his future starting XIs.

Arthur performed like Xabi Alonso in midfield, dictating rhythm, seldom relinquishing possession. Marquinhos, still only 25, and Thiago Silva were boulders. Alisson was infallible when called upon. Gabriel Jesus blended grit with guile.

And Dani Alves – part monster, part magician – was unequivocally the tournament’s MVP. Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City all wanted him afterwards. Alves instead accepted a luxurious welcome ceremony – 40,000 fans turned up, while a good-luck message from Lionel Messi was shown on the big screen – and the No10 shirt, handed over by Kaka, at Sao Paulo.

“I dream of playing in the 2022 World Cup,” he explained of his move. “I needed a club that believes in me. Missing out on the last World Cup really hurt me.”

Era Tite has yielded 33 victories in 42 matches. A Seleção have conceded just 11 goals during that time.

Eder Militao, Lucas Paqueta, David Neres and Richarlison, who were all at the Copa America, are 21 or 22. There’s Real Madrid’s teenage wunderkinds Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo. Then there’s Neymar to return.

“I’m really proud of the guys,” said Neymar. “They’ve shut a lot of people up. They’ve shown that Brazil is on the right path.”