BRAZIL ROUT MEANS NOTHING

469564-philippe-coutinho-copa-america-2016-brazil-reuters
By STEVE BRENNER

ORLANDO, Fla. — It will undoubtedly take more than a convincing win over Haiti to reinvigorate Brazil’s love affair with its national soccer team.

With only 35 minutes on the stadium clock, Brazil, five-time world champions, already had three goals against an earnest collection of Haitian players who were content enough to be joining the party at this summer’s Copa América Centenario without registering a seismic result against a team that has traditionally been one of the game’s greatest powers.

The Brazilian national squad, known as the Seleçäo, would go on to score seven times, thus sending home a healthy-sized crowd, announced at 28,241, satisfied with the tournament’s highest-scoring game so far.

Philippe Coutinho, the Liverpool forward, was impressive, scoring three of Brazil’s goals. Yet for Dunga, Brazil’s coach, problems remain.

No matter what story the scoreboard told, apathy reigns.

With the Rio Olympics looming into view, there is an acute lack of interest here in the Seleçäo’s progress this summer. A weary shrug of the shoulders greeted the opening game draw with an unlucky Ecuadorian team that was denied a victory by some questionable officiating.

Confidence among Dunga’s players has been understandably low. A meeting with Haiti, whose players can only dream of the salaries earned by the Brazilians, would most likely only marginally reinvigorate a team under the pressure it faces.

Brazil’s mystique remains in the hearts of those who recall their glory days. Such was the magic from legendary players such as Pele, Jairzinho, Zico, Ronaldo and Romario, that it was impossible not to be enthralled.

As the current Brazilian team danced over the turf here Wednesday night, images of those men who created such a storied history were impossible not to recall.

The Seleçäob, which effectivly played its B Team, having rested Neymar for the Olympics, will need to dispatch better teams than Haiti, ranked 71st, before Brazil can entertain dreams of returning to soccer’s summit.

Brazil was last crowned World Cup champion in 2002, and triumphed in the Copa América five years later. Since then, there has been little to excite a nation whose lifeblood is firmly entrenched in the most popular sport on the planet.

Indeed, the embarrassment of losing by 7-1 to Germany on home soil in the 2014 World Cup semifinals was the nadir for those who had grown sick and tired of the C.B.F., Brazil’s governing body for soccer, which had become embroiled in corruption as part of the crackdown on irregular activity within FIFA.

“Football was our drug but now we are sober and having to face a dark reality,” said Leo Santos, a soccer fan in Brazil. “Corruption, economic crisis, unemployment. The phantom of that 7-1 haunts us.”

As Dunga lamented his team’s ability to prepare since arriving in the United States — the team was unable to practice at Camping World Stadium Tuesday because of heavy rainfall — he spoke Tuesday like a man who was feeling intense heat. The tide, it was clear, would not be turned on this result.

What mattered most, it seemed, was that the manner of play had to pay homage to Brazilian legend.

The team would have to move the ball with panache, verve and vigour. It would have to attack. To excite.

The Haitians, whose soccer-crazed population has always fawned over Brazil and their South American rivals Argentina, injected a wonderful sense of excitement into this match, even if they saw little of the ball in the opening stages. Casemiro, the Real Madrid midfielder, almost opened the scoring seven minutes into the game when a long range effort was deflected wide of Johny Placide’s goal.

Yet Coutinho’s excellent run and finish at 14 minutes left the Haitian goalkeeper with no chance of averting danger. It was an excellent goal and one that invigorated Dunga’s team. Coutinho’s second goal at 29 minutes was far more straightforward — he was able to roll the ball in from close range after Jonas had teed him up — though equally as important.

Renato Augusto’s header 10 minutes before the end of the first half ensured the remainder of the match resembled target practice for Brazil. Gabriel Barbosa, who was introduced as a second half substitute, pushed the score to four at 59 minutes before Lucas Lima headed a fifth soon after. Augusto made it six late in the game before Coutinho’s curling effort brought the crowd to its feet at the end.

Haiti was ultimately outclassed but worked hard, even though the result was never in doubt. Haiti’s consolation goal by James Marcelin at 69 minutes received the loudest cheer of the evening, speaking volumes about his team’s commendable effort.

Only when better opposition comes into view for Brazil, however, can the current state of Brazilian soccer be properly assessed, starting with Peru on Sunday in their final group game.

Fun for the Brazilians, perhaps, but no benchmark.

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