After Spanish-German champagne, Uruguay-Brazil serves up ‘shit on a stick’



The footballers in action. Source (X)

After the Spain-Germany classic at Euro 2024, there was hope that the Copa America clash between Brazil and Uruguay would be similarly memorable. It was, for all the wrong reasons. The quarter-final, at the Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas was an ugly spectacle, littered with fouls, acting that would have embarrassed preschoolers and a lack of goalmouth incident that was worrying when you considered the pedigree of the teams involved.

Tournament football is a strange beast. England and France have reached the last four of the Euros, playing what Jorge Valdano, World Cup winner in 1986, once called shit-on-a-stick football. Two squads brimful of talent, led by two risk-averse coaches, who have managed all of eight goals between them in 10 matches. So bad has the football been at times that both the turd and the stick might take offence at the comparison.

Uruguay had been quite easy on the eye in the group stage, albeit in what was the easiest group at the Copa America. But against Brazil, they reverted to the kind of thuggishness that they were notorious for a generation or two ago. Nahitan Nandez used to be a skilful midfielder. These days, Marcelo Bielsa uses him as a bustling right-back. A superb cross 33 minutes into the first half should have seen Darwin Nunez give Uruguay the lead, but midway through the second half, he came rushing in with a crude tackle that could have fractured Rodrygo’s ankle.

No Video Assistant Referee (VAR) will have an easier decision to make this year than the red that Nandez was given, and what was especially laughable was him trudging off as though he had somehow been wronged. Not that the Brazilians were angels. Endrick, the teenage prodigy, tried to leave a skilful imprint on the game, but after a point, Brazil met violence with violence.

There were ugly tackles from Lucas Paqueta, Bruno Guimaraes and others, and by the end of the 90 minutes, the foul count was 26-15 in Uruguay’s favour. Apart from the Nunez header over the bar and a Raphina snapshot that was brilliantly kept out by Sergio Rochet, there was barely an attacking moment to savour.

Alisson saved from Jose Gimenez in the shootout, but that was offset by Eder Militao’s effort being saved and Douglas Luiz hitting the post. There wasn’t that much emotion or a flood of tears from the Brazilian camp at the end. When you play this badly, the default emotion deserves to be embarrassment and not sadness.

Dorival Junior should be spared the knives, since he’s so new to the job, but despite the talent in the ranks, Brazilian football is definitely lurching through a mini crisis. Apart from the emphatic 4-1 win over Paraguay, they were poor in every other outing, and not even the most diehard fans will have a hard-luck story from this Copa America.

Brazil’s discomfort is all the more acute because Argentina look set to make another final, at least, while Colombia, the tournament’s form team, thumped Panama 5-0 to set up a semi-final clash against Uruguay in Charlotte. Nestor Lorenzo’s side have James Rodriguez in prime form again, and other stars like Luis Diaz, while Uruguay look an altogether different side under Bielsa. It remains to be seen whether Dorival Junior can inspire that sort of revival in the months ahead.

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Spain, and the Netherlands and Turkey – who played out a fascinating match in Berlin – have shown that ‘tournament football’ need not be defensive, dour, violent or boring. All that France and England have shown is that they need new ideas, and new coaches, at the earliest. Brazil don’t need to change coach again, but they do need to find out where they lost the samba rhythms. Right now, watching them is a painful experience. 

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