I remember entering a sports shop with my parents when the 1998 World Cup was about to begin. Everyone was buying Brazil-related products, from shirts to key rings. My parents bought Brazil’s shirts, and offered me one as well. I don’t know why I refused it and decided to leave with a France shirt. My father refused to buy it, but myself making a scandal in the shop managed him to change his mind. It was funny to see everyone going out of their houses with yellow shirts with names like “Ronaldo” and “Rivaldo” while I used one with “Zidane” at the back.
Another strangely fond moment is watching my family looking at me with sad eyes, some of them crying, while I was cheering at the TV in every France touch. Unfortunately, my father took the shirt from me, saying it caused “bad luck”. Maybe, but I was still amused.
It was the feeling of other Brazilian fans as well. The title in 1994 wasn’t expected, but the one in 1998 was almost a certainty. Losing 3-0 to a French squad which wasn’t regarded as a strong one by the Pachecos (how blind Brazilian fans were called after a character created by Gillete in the 1982 World Cup) was heartbreaking. Once again, Brazil was in a dump. And it didn’t look like it would be an easy task to come out of it.
In comes the 2002 World Cup, the 1st played in Asia. Brazil started with a debate which lasted months about Romário being cut from the squad by then Brazil’s coach Felipão. Defenders and detractors had heated discussions in sports programs. Many didn’t believe in relying on Ronaldo to lead the team after his horrible knee injury while playing for Inter Milan, and Felipão was too stubborn and defensive-minded to lead the squad.
Most people know the result. Another unexpected title, Ronaldo emerging as one of the best Brazilian players, redeeming himself from the 1998 WC by recovering from a once considered career-ending injury, and high hopes for the “hexa” (the 6th World Cup title).
Brazil’s squad in 2006 was led by Carlos Alberto Parreira, the same coach who brought 1994 World Cup title to Brazil, and that’s where the major criticism began. Many found it awkward to let Felipão go in 2002 following a World Cup title, maybe forgetting that Brazil stick to Parreira in the successful run in 1994 and the heart-breaking loss in 1998. He didn’t have the same man management skills that Felipão was known of, and was regarded as a “puppet” to Ricardo Teixeira, CBF’s president and main man of Brazilian football.
The 2006 squad had many players who were deemed good enough to feature in a Brazil’s shirt at the World Cup, which was the cause of accusations toward Parreira. Leaving Marcos, one of the best players in the 2002 WC, out of the squad while promoting players like Emerson and Zé Roberto raised doubts.
Poor showing in matches, even though the results weren’t worrisome, made the hopes fade away. Elimination was imminent, and it came with an old foe: France, with a Henry header, after Roberto Carlos stood to fix his socks in the middle of a cross by a Zidane free kick — and Brazil collectively failed to mark the Frenchmen on a set-piece play.
Another character of the 2006 squad was Ronaldinho Gaúcho. Coming out of one of the best seasons ever by a player, winning the CL with Barcelona and with his star status as high as ever, many relied on Ronaldinho and Ronaldo to lead Brazil to glory. But while Ronaldo was out of form, Ronaldinho shied away from the spotlight. The World Cup also started his rapid and surprising decline in form.
And in part 3: Dunga, the 2010 WC and Mano’s appointment.