A Week Of Disappointment And Dejection

‘Quero o Mundo.’ They had wanted to conquer the world, but in the end Flamengo and its supporters experienced a week of dejection and disappointment rather than moments of glory and triumphs. In the end, Flamengo had to settle for a bronze medal after a labored 4-2 victory against Al Ahly of Egypt. The Brazilian club had however travelled to Morocco dreaming of winning the Club World Cup, the holy grail for South American clubs, but a shock 3-2 defeat to Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal in the semi-finals prompted tears, fury, and a painful post-mortem.

Where did the result leave Brazilian football on the global stage? Did Flamengo’s humiliating exit reinforce the narrative of a ‘futebol nation’ in decline? Brazil 1970 legend Gerson pointed to the substitutions of Everton Ribeiro and Giorgian De Arrascaeta as the reasons for Flamengo’s failure – without those two creative players the Rio club faltered when chasing the game. In his column for Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo, Tostao questioned whether Brazilian players had the emotional stability to weather these major matches? Along the same lines, he had written that Brazil attaches too much importance to the game following the Selecao’s 7-1 defeat to Germany in 2014.

The South American champion was in a purgatory during the semi-final of the Club World Cup: 90 minutes away from a dream final against Real Madrid or 90 minutes away from humiliation. Brazilian clubs and their fans however have far too often considered the last-four encounter as a formality. Flamengo does so with good reason: after years of austerity under Eduardo Bandeira de Mello, the club attained unprecedented heights under Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus, whose team conquered South America and almost the world going toe-to-toe with Liverpool in the 2019 Club World Cup final.

It was the swashbuckling style of the Jesus era that so enchanted. He proved that it was possible to field the attacking phalanx of Gabriel Barbosa, Bruno Henrique, Everton Ribeiro and Giorgian di Arrascaeta. None of Jesus’s successors have emulated his success, but even so Flamengo remains the dominant force in Brazilian and South American soccer. Increasingly monetizing its huge fan base of 45 million fans, Flamengo has never been wealthier than today, generating an annual revenue of around 1 billion Reias ($192 million). Having the deepest squad, the club won the Copa Libertadores and Copa do Brasil double in 2022, but a top-heavy team proved vulnerable against Al Hilal. There was no coming back from Salem Al Dawsari’s opening goal from the penalty spot and Gerson’s red card compounded Flamengo’s problems.

It was the sixth time that a South American club faltered prematurely. Corinthians was the last club from the region to win the competition in 2012 when under Tite’s guidance it defeated Chelsea 1-0. Of course, much of Europe’s dominance on the world stage is due to economic imperatives. South America and the other continents simply cannot compete with the money that is invested and on offer in Europe. That inequality is mirrored in the results.

Flamengo and other outfits have become feeder clubs for Europe’s best. A headliner at the Club World Cup, Vinicius Junior is the perfect example. From the Ninho do Urubu and the senior team, he crossed the Atlantic at a very young age. It was a huge gamble, but his pace, dribbles and goals have become indispensable to Real Madrid. He polished his game to become a mainstay.

Flamengo is stuck in an export industry, its managerial appointments of the last few years have been too haphazard, and despite the financial riches the club lacks a comprehensive sporting project. The Rio club will need one to take the next step. For now, that second world crown remains elusive, but at least come the next semi-final at the Club World Cup Flamengo will have been warned: underestimate the opponent at your own peril.

#Week #Disappointment #Dejection

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