The fading challenge from the football mad continent
For only the fifth time, the World Cup Semi Finals will be contested without a South American nation. It’s been a tournament of dark horses, were the traditional big boys have failed to deliver.
With the eyes of the world now focused on Belgium, England, France and Croatia, there will be envy and bitter disappointment from the South American cohort. Their contribution to the World Cup was a real mixed big, with only Uraguay really going home with a smattering of pride.
By the time the next tournament kicks off in the sweltering heat of Quatar, it will be twenty years since a South American team lifted the Jules Rimmet trophy. With the dominance of Europe and the stumbling form of the South American powerhouses, it does beg the question; are they in terminal decline?
Brazil had scores to settle and a reputation to restore going in to this tournament. Their 7-1 annihilation on home soil to Germany was the lowest of ebbs for them. No doubt they wanted to show the world that they were whole again and still very much a powerhouse of global football.
While they played well at times, there was a feeling that we hadn’t quite seem them hit the high notes. They won whilst playing within themselves. Gabriel Jesus was dissapointing, and Neynar made headlines for the wrong reasons. Perhaps the most damming aspect of their campaign was that they fell to the first top team they faced.
Argentina were poor in the group stage before at least redeeming themselves somewhat with a brave performance against France. Blessed with a wealth of attacking talent, Jorge Sampaoli oddly went with a high pressing game which his players were clearly not committed too.
Peru were never expected to progress, and duly finished third in their group. Despite some determined performances, they failed to add much to the spectacle this summer.
Colombia became part of an elite club to suffer defeat to England in a penalty shoot out at a World Cup. Their performances though were tarnished by their vile antics, diving and verbal assaults on referees.
Uraguay continue to punch above their weight, but with their star players now ageing, this was the last shot that this group had to bring the trophy home.
Anticipation and pressure
Both Argentina and Brazil played as though they were shackled with nerves and fear this year. The pressure and expectation on them to perform is immense.
Argentina are without a major international honour since 1993, while Brazil have not made the final of the tournament they cherish so much since 2002. Coupled with the plucky exploits of Chile and Uraguay in recent years, these barren years have really stung the national pride.
The media demand success at each and every finals and it is clearly impacting on performances. A lot of the spotlight has fallen on Messi, but the likes of Gabriel Jesus and Neymar have also struggled to catch the eye in Russia. Their performances will definitely be hamstrung by this constant bombardment from the press.
Jesus has already been dubbed the worst number nine for Brazil at a World Cup, by Globo Esporte. Coments like that will no doubt hurt the player’s confidence, hardly what a youngster needs in the biggest tournament of his career thus far.
The South Americans should be worried somewhat by their collective showing this summer. Europe is now firmly ahead of them. Nations like France and Belgium have impressive young Squads. England have real quality and growing belief, while nations like Croatia and Porugual continue to punch above their weight.
Brazil is a conveyor belt for rich young talent. It’s a nation where kids emerge full of flair and determination, often with the added incentive of fleeing poverty. They are unlikely to stagnate and flounder in this, but they will hope that maybe they can find a coach who can somehow relieve the terrible pressure put on them.
Argentina will be concerned though. Aguero and Messi have reached the end of their cycle. The likes of Dyabla are proof that they can still produce top talent, but they will be desperate to blood some more young players between now and 2022.
The drought that current South American sides are enduring is concerning. Brazil did endure a longer barren run between 1970 and 1994, which they ultimately bounced back from. However for a continent so influential in the history of this tournament they will once again be left disappointed as their European rivals continue to dominate.