- Associated Press - Sunday, June 28, 2015

SAO PAULO (AP) - It just keeps getting worse for Brazil’s national team.

In its first chance to get over the humiliating World Cup elimination, Brazil disappointed again - dropping out of the Copa America without any signs of improvement from a year ago.

Brazil’s struggles in the South American tournament culminated with elimination in a penalty shootout against Paraguay on Saturday, keeping the Selecao from getting past the tournament’s quarterfinals for the second straight time and leaving fans wondering what lies ahead for the five-time world champions.

And the future doesn’t look too good, considering Brazil has a generation with few top stars and is enduring unprecedented turmoil involving officials running the sport.

“We have to rethink Brazilian football, not only on the field,” coach Dunga said before the squad returned home to Brazil on Sunday. “We have to recognize that other nations have improved, and we must be humble and understand that it’s time to get to work. We know we have a lot of work ahead of us.”

The Copa America was Brazil’s first official competition since its 2014 World Cup humiliation, when it was crushed 7-1 by Germany in the semifinals. Now its next chance at redemption will come in South American qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, which starts in October. Another failure would be devastating for Brazil, the only nation to never miss out on a World Cup.

Dunga, who has been in charge of revamping the squad since he replaced Luiz Felipe Scolari after the World Cup, arrived in Chile boosted by 10 straight wins in friendlies, but with few convincing performances to satisfy the demanding Brazilian fans.

“We knew from the beginning that it wasn’t going to be easy,” Dunga said. “Even after the series of victories, we weren’t satisfied, we knew that we would need to improve. Now is the time to see whether we are actually good, whether we are able to resurrect, whether we have the strength to recover.”

The coach may not have a lot of time to find out, as calls for his resignation have already increased after Brazil’s disappointing performance in Chile. It needed a last-minute goal to beat Peru 2-1 in the opener, then lost 1-0 to Colombia in the second match, and closed out the group stage with a lackluster 2-0 win over Venezuela.

“Another failure,” read a headline Sunday in the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, Brazil’s largest daily.

Dunga, who also coached Brazil at the 2010 World Cup, put most of the blame for Brazil’s Copa America elimination on the absences of the suspended Neymar and other injured players such as Oscar, Marcelo and Luiz Gustavo. But even if these players return, Brazilian fans know they won’t have much to look forward to, apart from the proven star qualities of Neymar.

The nation finds itself with a generation of few top stars. Many of the players in the Copa America squad play in second-tier European clubs, and some even in less traditional football markets. Everton Ribeiro, who missed one of Brazil’s penalties on Saturday, plays for Al Ahli in the United Arab Emirates. One of the team’s strikers, Diego Tardelli, plays in China.

More than ever, the team is heavily dependent on Neymar, who is only 23 and still displays signs of immaturity, as was shown by his red card against Colombia in Chile. And players who once were considered the strength of the national team, such as defenders Thiago Silva and David Luiz, have been playing poorly recently, prompting even more doubts about the team’s future.

“We all know that we have to improve,” veteran striker Robinho said.

To make things worse, Dunga won’t be able to count on Neymar for the first two World Cup qualifiers because of the four-game suspension he received after his altercation with Colombian players in the group stage.

“Of course Neymar is important for us, but I think we have many quality players, they just need a little more experience,” Dunga said. “We learned a lot in this Copa America.”

The problems on the field coincide with a crisis involving the Brazilian football confederation, whose former president was among the officials arrested in Switzerland after corruption investigations by U.S. and Swiss authorities. There have been widespread calls for the current president to resign, and a congressional probe into the administration of local football is scheduled to start soon.

In the last few weeks, Brazilian football also disappointed in the ongoing Women’s World Cup, with Marta’s team being eliminated in the round of 16, and in the Under-20 World Cup, when Brazil’s youngsters lost the final to Serbia.

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Follow Tales Azzoni at http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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