You play soccer. You have a team, some decent players. You’re ambitious. Good for you. Now, attempt the following: When the whistle blows and the match begins, jog around the pitch slowly, laconically, grinning the entire time. Your body language should express an indifference to the game itself. In fact, let your opponent control the pace, let them have possession, let them think they’re in charge. When you do get the ball, pass it around a little, just to see how it feels. Isn’t the stadium pretty under the lights? Smile. Mostly, though, wait. Be patient. Don’t run hard unless it’s absolutely necessary. Just for fun, let the other side have a few shots on goal, so they get their blood flowing. Then, after twenty minutes without a single scoring opportunity, manufacture one out of thin air—a broken play in the midfield, a counter-attack, a foul and a quick restart—and once in front of the rival’s net, be merciless.
Playing against Brazil is an absolute nightmare. I can’t think of a score in my favor at which I’d begin to relax: 5-0, 7-0? Let’s be honest—most teams see that canary yellow jersey and quietly shit themselves. At last year’s Confederations Cup, the U.S. was up two goals at the half, and promptly gave the game away. For their part, Brazil never appeared too concerned, and the final score could hardly have been less surprising. It was, in fact, nothing less than the same old story. My entire life, I’ve been watching Brazil play poorly and win consistently. They are the rare team that never seems to be in control of the game, though they always are. The truth is they’re not playing the same game as their opponents. They’re playing something else, a sport related to soccer, but entirely different. In their version of the sport the rest of us know, if they score one on you, they’ll score three. Once you’re forced to chase the game—as Chile was today—they’re more than happy to tear you to pieces.
Marcelo Bielsa’s Chile, to their credit, were not afraid. They played the same attractive, attacking style they’ve shown all tournament long; but unfortunately for them, they also displayed the same goal-scoring futility that plagued them in the group stage. (Chile got this far on the strength of only two goals.) You can’t beat Brazil squandering opportunities. You have to score early, and often. You have to make them come to you. You have to force their defenders to play defense full time, without giving them a chance to make those lethal runs up the wings. And most importantly, you have to beat them for a solid ninety minutes. How many times have I seen Brazil be thoroughly dominated for eighty-five minutes, and walk off the pitch smiling and victorious, as if they found the entire spectacle amusing?
Dunga and his players are to be commended. Even with Kaká playing so-so, they’re impressive. This team is stronger on defense than any Brazilian side I can recall, and they’re remarkably consistent in the attacking third. Luis Fabiano is a straight-up murderer. Everyone is lamenting the end of the jogo bonito, but those last two goals looked pretty damn bonito to me. Bet the fans in Rio thought so too. Juan and Lucio never seem to tire (and don’t these two play in the same long, exhausting European leagues that others have used as excuses?) and just in case they do, the Brazilian bench is deep.
You know, maybe I’ll let someone else answer the question at the top of this post. Maybe the Dutch have the secret recipe. If an answer exists, my guess is it will involve getting just a little bit lucky.