THE SAMBA SMILE DISAPPEARS

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FROM STEVE BRENNER

Forget about the searing injustice.

Try, if you can, to eradicate the memory of one of the worst refereeing displays ever seen in a major tournament.

Yes,  the hapless Uruguayan referee, Andres Cunha , dropped an almighty blunder by allowing Raul Ruidiaz’s winning goal for Peru last night despite the ball clearly being bundled over the line with the use of his arm.

This result – and the repercussions which will be long, arduous and potentially leave people searching for new jobs following Brazil’s shock exit from the Copa America Centenario – was , however, about more than just an awful call.

It’s a story of the kings of soccer, the five time World Champions, the purveyors of o jogo bonito taking a two year journey to the wondrous delights of skid row.

A  vibrant, fascinating, culturally rich country tearing itself apart in the midst of a debilitating economic and political crisis.

Fans simply sick and tired of corrupt officials from the CBF , Brazil’s governing body, bringing shame to proud people who deserve much better.

Last night’s demise was greeted with shrugs of the shoulders back home.

On the whole, people have been more interested in domestic action.

Apathy and disillusionment concerning the national team has seeped in ever since Germany delivered that astonishing 7-1 triumph in the World Cup semi-final two years ago.

The Selecao, once seen as the team of the people , a vestige of hope for those who live with nothing, had betrayed a nation.

There is a worrying disconnect manifesting itself right now.

Why , people cry, have millions and millions been spent on staging a World Cup and Olympic games when millions remain, and continue , to live in abject poverty?

Why do the crooks who run the game sit in their ivory towers and feed off the greed while the less fortunate scrap for their lives?

Former CBF head Jose Maria Marin was indicted with nine others last May in conjunction with the FBI crackdown on FIFA wrongdoing. A few months later his replacement, Marco Polo Del Nero, also received a knock on his door.

Those in power and who should know better were, instead of helping the domestic game grow so , in turn, the best talents would stay in Brazil , filing their own pockets with arrogant, reckless abandon.

Don’t waste your time waiting for answers.

Two years on from that quite incredible , unforgettable night against the Germans, there has been no improvement.

The pain remains – it’s just that the lows have been digested. Being embarrassed with the world watching was one thing. But it’s happened again? Well, ok.

That night in Belo Horizonte left millions stunned into submission.

This nightmare in New England was just another sly kick to an adversary already sprawling on the tuf.

Dunga, the coach, looked forlorn on the sidelines. In his second spell as national team manager, his days are surely numbered.

Indeed, if it wasn’t for the fast approaching Rio Olympics, his hot seat would surely already be vacant.

The man who lifted the World Cup in 1994 knows a gold medal on home soil was the priority.

That’s why Neymar was allowed a breather to hang out with Justin Bieber and other well heeled compadres.

Clearly losing the services of the brilliant Barcelona forward was something Dunga’s side certainly couldn’t deal with.

Though for a country whose production line has long been the envy of planet soccer, shouldn’t there still be enough talent to emerge from a group with included Peru , Haiti and Ecuador?

The answer is yes.

And for that Dunga, a man who doesn’t possess the character or vigour to light up a nation pleading for inspiration, must shoulder the blame.

While a pre-tournament injury to Douglas Costa was unfortunate (Brazil’s injured list was at six pre-tournament), the Selecao have attempted to create blood a new generation following the nadir of that 7-1.

Experienced campaigners like David Luiz and Thiago Silva have fallen out of favor. Ever since last summer’s Copa disaster which saw elimination in the quarter-finals, change has been foremost in everyone’s mind.

Luiz endured a nightmare against Paraguay in a World Cup qualifier earlier this year and has paid for it with his yellow jersey.

There remains quality in the ranks – Philippe Coutinho, Casemiro, Willian as well as the injured Oscar- are top class talents .  Jonas had an impressive season for Benfica yet failed to transform his League form for the Selecao.

Gabriel, the 19 year-old Santos forward, has a huge future ahead of him . Though a worrying lack of striking talent from the country who produced Pele, Romario and Ronaldo has come home to roost.

That their team failed to score in two of their three games over the past 10 days and managed only to trouble the scorers against Haiti has set the alarm bells ringing louder than ever.

Peru were on the backfoot for large swathes of last night’s game.

The Brazil of old, the one with magic in their feet and smiles on their faces, would have taken the match by the scruff of the neck and produced the requisite stardust needed to get the job done.

This however is a team who, a third of the way through qualification for the World Cup in two years, lay in sixth place.

The prospect of Brazil not taking part in the biggest show on earth is remarkable and sobering in equal measure.

This class of 2016 – effectively a B side or not – just didn’t have it in them.

They were lucky to escape with an opening match draw with Ecuador who , thanks to yet more questionable officiating, really should have pocketed all three points.

Haiti were roundly thrashed in Orlando, yet what became a glorified training session predictably papered over the gaping cracks with have widened this morning as Brazil head home, heads bowed.

The perceived negativity of Dunga added into the myriad pressures of trying to lift the Brazilian people all contributed to this latest , abject embarrassment.

The manager did try to inject flair in place of solidity last night , opting to replace the suspended Casemiro with Lucas Lima instead of the more defensive minded Wallace.

They were on top for large swathes yet still lost to an experimental, young Peru team.

In all reality , this edition of the Copa, coming so soon after the last one, wasn’t the acid test for Brazil.

The Olympics is ultimate goal this year. Neymar will be back.

Though with the team mainly consisting of players under the age of 23, it’s difficult to compare and contrast with what’s transpired here in the United States.

Sporadic hope will return.

Yet , soon enough, it will dissipate once again. The same problems will remain.

The streets will teem with indignation. The chasms will grow. The anger will intensify.

Change at the top needs to be made though the timing couldn’t be worse.

The Brazilian people ,and their glorious soccer legacy, deserve better.

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