Brazil are hot favourites to win the Copa America on home soil this summer. They made a good start with a 3-0 win over Bolivia although the 0-0 draw against Venezuala left the home fans frustrated. The Selecao were booed off at full-time, having also been booed off at half-time against Bolivia with the scores level before an improved second-half performance saw them take all three points. But what has happened over the past two decades to the most entertaining international side in world football?
In 2002, Brazil established themselves not only the most entertaining - but the number one side in the world as they lifted the World Cup in South Korea after a fabulous tournament. That Brazil side was jam-packed full of stars and the front three of Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho had perfected Joga Bonito is unlikely to be matched by any country but they also had the pace and power of Roberto Carlos and Cafu at wing-back.
Luiz Felipe Scolari delivered a famous fifth World Cup to the Samba nation and the South Americans were ranked as the number one side in the world. Success kept coming for Brazil as they won the 2004 Copa America in Peru and they travelled to Germany in 2006 hoping to defend their World Cup crown.
That team was arguably as good to watch as the class of 2002 with Adriano, Ronaldo, Kaka and Ronaldinho forming a flamboyant front four. That team could - and maybe should - have won that tournament as well, having won the Confederations Cup in the previous year. But they were stopped in their tracks by one of the finest individual performances of all time, as Zinedine Zidane dragged his side through to the final.
Perhaps if Roberto Carlos hadn’t decided to tie his shoelace rather than mark Thierry Henry, Brazil would have won back-to-back titles. Brutal. They showed their class the following year by winning the 2007 Copa America and the 2009 Confederations Cup win meant that things were once again promising heading into the 2010 World Cup but times had changed.
It would be Dunga’s last tournament and the squad was nothing like it was four years previous. Luis Fabiano was up front supported by Robinho and Kaka but the rest of the squad was not up to scratch. That side lost to a Wesley Sneijder-inspired Netherlands in the quarter-final and ever since then, it has been a struggle for the side known for their flamboyance.
Mano Menezes oversaw an unsuccessful two years which was seen as a transition period for the nation. Then, in came managerial hero from 2002, Luiz Felipe Scolari for a second spell in charge. He was the man to win the World Cup on home soil in 2014 but this time around, despite being an expert at international competitions, things went wrong.
That Brazil squad did have promise and quality but aside from Neymar, there was little flair. Fernandinho and Paulinho provided a functional base to midfield and Hulk and Fred were a powerful duo in the attacking third. The reliance on Neymar was huge and perhaps unknown until the semi-final stage.
There, Germany dismantled the hosts in one of the most brutal World Cup performances we have ever seen. That 7-1 defeat lead to turmoil amongst the Brazilians and the fact they had not been successful despite their functional set-up had drawn criticism.
Dunga came back in and was responsible for making the side even more solid and less exciting. Over the following two years Brazil enjoyed no success. They flopped at the 2015 and 2016 editions of the Copa America, going out in the group stage of the latter for the first time since 1987.
That was enough for Dunga to lose his job after several poor performances and since then Tite has stepped up to the role. With a win percentage of 79%, he is certainly doing something right in charge of the national team. They have averaged over two goals a game during his time and lost just twice, one of those being the 2018 World Cup quarter-final against Brazil.
Tite has certainly got Brazil heading in the right direction and it would be a surprise if they didn’t win the Copa America on home soil. Coutinho is playing some of his best football for his country this year but there is still an exciting spark missing as we saw in the stalemate against Venezuela.
Although these players will not go down in history alongside the likes of Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and Ronaldo, they could bring success back to Brazil. It may not be Joga Bonito anymore, but Brazil may just be on the right path to successful football once more.