20 July ~ Brazil's Copa America quarter-final exit may have surprised those who missed the team's laboured efforts during the group stages. But everyone was bewildered by their missing all four penalties in a shoot-out with Paraguay after both teams had failed to score in 120 minutes of play. It's Four Times wailed the daily O Globo in a reference to the fact that the quartet of culprits (all helpfully identified in large photos) messed up on the same date that Brazil had won their fourth World Cup in 1994.
The players' "historical incompetence" was lamented on the same page as a cartoon had president Dilma Rousseff offering to take a penalty. Other critics puzzled over why more predictable options Neymar, Paulo Henrique and Pato were all substituted as the shoot-out loomed.
Nonetheless, few would bracket this with Brazil's defeat at the same stage by Honduras in the Copa America of 2001. Then Brazil were without several key players in a tournament that was off and on again due to concerns over security in Colombia. Defeat became a mere footnote for coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, given his success in winning the World Cup a year later.
On Sunday the La Plata turf had so much sand that Brazil's pre-eminent beach footballers were called in to comment on technique. The general consensus was that those looking for an excuse in a crumbly penalty spot did not have a case, especially given the calm conversion of two Paraguay's three penalties. While Paraguay's bruising approach, indulged by Argentine referee Sergio Pezzotta, was duly noted, most alarming was the lack of goals.
Brazil are still searching for a long-term worthy successor to Ronaldo, with the left-back and goalkeeping positions also in need of review. Nevertheless most commentators accepted the squad as probably the best currently available and were especially supportive of the inclusion of Santos pair Neymar and Paulo Henrique in the line-up.
CBF president Ricardo Teixeira's rapid expression of support for the coach Mano Menezes quashed press speculation over his future, but the media were united in failing to see the development and progress of the team referred to by both Teixeira and Menezes. Eduardo Tironi, columnist for sports daily LANCE!, observed: "The national team comes home without winning and without enchanting. And there is no saviour of the nation waiting to be called up."
But more than changes of coach, tactics or starting XI, it seems what most Brazilians want is for their team to play more like Uruguay: a team that in the Copa America as in the World Cup seems to grow rather than shrink in a national shirt. Robert Shaw