Brazil were imperious against Japan on Saturday night. Playing with the swagger and flair that brings to mind the years of Socrates and Garrincha, there was nothing to stop the Selecao from waltzing past the Samurai Blue in Brasilia last night.
They chose the perfect backdrop for it too. The National Stadium in the nation’s capital was a cauldron of noise and emotion as this young Brazil side took what are hopefully steps to greatness for international football’s most successful team.
Brazilian fans will be happy to see their team perform in such imperious fashion a year before they host the FIFA World Cup, but hope in this situation will supersede certainty.
Because Brazil are ranked 22nd in the world. Yes, you heard me. Not second, not even a rather embarrassing twelfth, but twenty-second in the world.
Brazil being Brazil, any position occupied by the five-time World Cup winners outside the top three is simply inexcusable. Because of the fleeting nature of international football, such factoids are normally forgotten during the course of a domestic season and then brought to light during the summer months, when these tournaments usually take place, only to see the ensuing cycle of debate and discussion and re-refrigeration of such points occur again and again.
But what are the reasons Brazil are outside the top twenty, behind the likes of Croatia (4), Ecuador (10), Belgium (12) and Colombia (7)?
Before going any further, it is important to dissect how the FIFA Rankings System works. As FIFA say it, any team that has done well is high up in the rankings. From that standpoint, Brazil have surely not done well.
The formula for calculating a nation’s FIFA rankings is: M x I x T x C
Here, M is the number of points for a result. Winners get three, losers get none, a draw gives you a point. If you win a penalty shootout, you get two. If you lose, you get one.
I is the importance of a game played. Friendlies and exhibition games count for a point, qualifiers give you two and a half, tournaments at continental level and the FIFA Confederations Cup give you half a point more and a game at the World Cup means four points.
T is the strength of the opposing team, where T = 200 minus the rank of the opposition team which is taken from the latest FIFA World Cup rankings. The team at the top of the rankings is always given 200 points while teams ranked 150 and below get a permanent score of 50.
C is the value of the Confederation the team belongs to. Predictably, Europe is given maximum valuation with a coefficient of one, at par with South America’s CONMEBOL. North America is have a value of 0.88, both the AFC and CAF are at 0.86 and Oceania are at 0.85.
As Phoebe Buffay says in Friends, calculating the nitty-gritty of Brazil’s world ranking is “math I can’t even do.”
What I have done therefore is lay it out for you.
Before the current crop of Brazilian players came along, their predecessors had reached their peak when the lifted the World Cup in Korea-Japan in 2002. Feeding off the talents of Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and Ronaldo, Brazil were imperious.
But fast forward to 2006 and that squad was a much-vaunted shadow of that same team that cantered to the World Cup and the 2005 Confederations Cup. Cafu, Roberto Carlos and Juninho were fast ageing while Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Adriano were grossly overweight. They made light of an easy group and outclassing debutants Ghana was always going to be easy but they came unstuck against old enemies France as Thierry Henry struck the winner and Zinedine Zidane reminded Brazil that while they looked disinterested (a la Roberto Carlos’ shoelaces), he had the same hunger he showed in Paris in 1998.
With the fading of much of the old guard, the Selecao chopped and changed on several fronts, including bringing in a new coach in the form of Dunga, who decided to look beyond the megastars at AC Milan, Real Madrid and Barcelona and treat everybody equally, instituting a new style of football at the same time.
That was seen in the 2007 edition of the Copa America, where Brazil put out a primarily hitherto unknown young group of players which played with the verve their more illustrious countrymen should have showed in Germany.
While his ideas were good, it did not suit Brazil’s famed Jogo Bonito style of play, and an exit to the Dutch in South Africa brought about criticism of this new style adopted by the South Americans as overly physical with less reliance on actual flair, something very different from the normal laid-back, languid model of football that characterises the Canarinha.
Another factor that contributed to Brazil not doing well on the international stage was that they were undergoing a period of transition. Kaka aside, there were no world-class attackers in the Brazil side. Both Luis Fabiano and Fred were employed up front, but they would never be able to match up to the exploits of the great Ronaldo.
Ronaldinho was cast out into the international wilderness, there was no established first-choice keeper in goal and 34-year-old Lucio was the most capable defender the nation had to hold the line. Failure at the hands of Paraguay in the 2011 Copa America therefore was not unexpected.
All that, however, is changing and it’s about time that it did.
The arrival of a new generation of top talent from Brazil has coincided with the need to satiate the pangs of a nation where a silver medal in a football tournament is never good enough. The loss to Mexico at the 2012 London Olympics only adds credence to that.
Neymar and Ganso are obviously the stand-put performers of this new wave of players that also includes new Paris Saint-Germain signing Lucas Moura, Bayern man Luis Gustavo, Shakhtar Donetsk’s Fernando, Rafael da Silva of Manchester United and a clutch of Brazil-based players including Paulinho, Leandro Damiao, Dede and Bernard.
At this stage in a footballer’s career, there is much that can go wrong and there are several well-travelled players to guide these prodigious talents on their way. Although both Ronaldinho and Kaka have not been selected for the Confederations Cup, there is a good chance they will be present in their nation next year. Rafael da Silva and Alexandre Pato, despite their youthful years, have been part of the national setup for a while now and both Julio Cesar and Dani Alves are world-class players.
The return of Luis Felipe Scolari will also be one of the major driving forces to the successes that Brazil have the potential to achieve as he was the man who guided Brazil to their World Cup triumph in 2002 and took Portugal to the finals of the Euros in 2004. Under him, Brazil have returned to their oh-so-successful samba style of the past.
And at the end of the day, the FIFA rank attached to Brazil is, at face value, just a number. Because they have qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup as hosts, they haven’t played a single competitive fixture since 2012.
Perhaps the greatest gauge by which to measure Brazil’s readiness to return to the big time would be their recent 3-0 defeat of France in Porto Alegre. On the 9th of June 2013, they ended a 21-year hoodoo which had seen them fail to win a single game against Les Bleus, for whom their 3-0 win in 1998 and 1-0 triumph in 2006 are surely some of the best memories in French sporting history.
South American commentators refer to Brazil as the Pentacampeao or five-time Champions. For a country with such a glorious footballing past, the fall from football’s summit – however deep it may be – is only an aberration.
Brazil have started clicking well in recent games and have a full year to improve their chemistry on the pitch as they attempt to bond off it, and any showing at the World Cup is only going to be augmented by their fanatical home support. That then, should surely see Brazil - retake their place among the footballing elite.
And they could very well win World Cup number six while doing so.