Brazil’s extraordinary place in soccer history is not up for debate. Even when non-soccer fans are asked to name the sport’s best player of all time, they say Pelé more often than not. The team, meanwhile, has a history of greatness that has built up both expectations from fans as well as confidence in its ability. But as the 2014 World Cup heads closer, that confidence is turning into nervousness for the host country. The reason: Brazil’s performance in the previous two World Cups.
Brazil was the dominant team throughout the 1990s, winning the 1994 World Cup and reaching the final in 1998. They also won the 2002 World Cup behind the eight goals of legendary striker Ronaldo, still the most the world has seen in a Cup since 1974. However, the next two tournaments were not so kind to the Samba Boys.
Brazil was set up very nicely going into 2006. The team won the 2005 Confederations Cup, which is considered a warm-up tournament for the World Cup, and it had the two-time reigning FIFA World Player of the Year in Ronaldinho. When the groups were drawn, it was placed into a very favorable group with Croatia, Australia, and Japan. During the group stage, Ronaldo tied the all time World Cup goals record in the match against Japan. In the Round of 16 match versus Ghana, the team won 3-0. There were some controversial offside no-calls in that particular match and some dreadful attempts at goal by Ghana, but Brazil took what was given to it. The team was on a roll. Next up was France, a team that barely made it out of their group and had more than a few aging stars starting.
The quarterfinal Brazil versus France match was viewed as a formality. Ronaldinho had not scored yet, but it was considered only a matter of time before he did. However, Brazil struggled against the strong and athletic defense, led in the middle by Lilian Thuram and William Gallas. Those two gobbled up everything Brazil threw at them.