Brazil at rock bottom: how the Seleção lost their way

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Brazil;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Brazil</a> are on their fourth manager since exiting the 2022 World Cup in the quarter-finals.</span><span>Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images</span>

If this isn’t rock bottom for the Seleção, it’s as near as makes no difference. Another early tournament exit. Another Brazil team making unwanted history. Their defeat to Uruguay on penalties in the quarter-finals of Copa América marks the seventh time they’ve been dumped from a tournament held outside Brazil before the semi-finals since 2009.

It may not be 1950 or 7-1, but the latest defeat paints as grim a picture as those famous results.

Heading into this summer’s Copa América, there was little expectation that Brazil would win their 10th title. But this could have been, should have been, a chance to build momentum. After years of turmoil at the federation, there was hope that a strong showing could spark a shift before the next round of World Cup qualifiers, where Brazil sit sixth in the standings – putting them perilously close to missing the 2026 tournament altogether.

After strong outings against Spain and England in March, coach Dorival Júnior, who was drafted in to stop the rot, looked to have stabilized the team. But Copa América did little to silence Dorival’s doubters. He has been criticized for failing to react in-game and for making substitutions too late. More alarmingly, his authority over a star-studded squad is being questioned. Before the penalty shootout, as the players huddled up, Dorival was left out of the circle. Raising his hand to speak, Dorival was ignored.

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The manager talked throughout the tournament about his focus on penalties. Brazil spent pre-game sessions practising spot kicks, knowing the odds of a shootout were increased with Copa América moving straight to penalties during the knockout rounds without extra time. Yet despite reportedly missing every spot-kick in training, Éder Militão was chosen as the first to take a penalty and promptly fluffed his lines, as did Douglas Luiz.

Accosted by angry fans at the team’s hotel, calling for Dorival and captain Danilo to step down, Danilo said Brazil are a “young team showed that can do great things” and that he “only hopes that people have a little patience”.

Few would agree. Patience was already running thin before the tournament, and the results and performances point to a team that has again lost its way. Brazil won just one game, a 4-1 hammering of lowly Paraguay in their second group game. In their other three matches against Costa Rica, Colombia and Uruguay, they drew in regular time and failed to score from open play.

Brazil are associated with slick, free-flowing moves, but Dorival’s team were meandering. The joy looked like it had been stripped away. There was little intensity. The players expected to inject dynamism – Rodrygo, Endrick, Vinícius Júnior – were either left on the bench or disappointed. Much of the focus has been placed on Vinícius, who is hearing criticism from all angles.

“Vinícius is not the player you say ‘if he plays well, Brazil will be champion.’ If he plays well, he will [only] help Brazil a lot,” Brazilian great Romário said recently.

The evidence of this summer suggests he is right. Vinícius was once again unable to convince on the big stage for his country – and was suspended for the quarter-final after picking up two cheap bookings in the group stage. He scored twice in the win over Paraguay, but went missing in the draws against Costa Rica and Colombia. For his club side, Vinícius is a blur of speed. He’s inventive in the final third. When he’s rolling, no defender can stop him. But that player vanishes when he puts on the yellow shirt. Under successive managers, he’s struggled to find his role. Should he be driving in from the left? Holding up play in the middle? Dropping deeper? Does he connect play or initiate it? He ebbs between periods of frustration, drifting without the ball, or leading fruitless one-man missions into closed corridors. In 251 minutes at this summer’s Copa, he had double the number of unsuccessful touches as he had passes leading to a shot.

But for as much as Vinícius shoulders the creative burden, the failure to get him more involved falls on those around him. The forward can only thrive in a structured team with a stable base. And as Vinícius has grown to become the nation’s most influential player, the team around him has descended into mediocrity.

Before the Uruguay game, midfielder Andreas Pereira said that Brazil’s squad was one that Uruguay could only dream of having. It was a strange statement. Brazil’s midfield, full of Premier League players, had just been steamrolled by a Colombian midfield filled with players from the often ridiculed Brasileirão. But it also served as a motivation for La Celeste’s players.

“To talk about Uruguay you need to have a little more respect,” Luis Suárez said after Uruguay’s win. “Know the history of Uruguay before saying that there are players who would like to be in the Brazil national team. Whoever made that comment was [Giorgian] De Arrascaeta’s back-up in Brazilian football [at Flamengo], so imagine what it’s like for us to hear that.”

If Pereira’s words appeared tone-deaf before kick-off, they sounded laughable afterward. Lucas Paquetá, João Gomes, Bruno Guimarães and Pereira could not handle Uruguay’s high-octane press, just as they had struggled against Colombia. Unable to play through the middle in either game, they resorted to Alisson launching hit-and-hope long balls from the back, fracturing any attempt to build up play.

Related: Endrick: ‘People say I have a heart of ice and I’m very cold with decisions’

Standing on the sideline, Dorival could not find solutions. Whereas once Brazil could call on Casemiro or Fernandinho to offer strength and tenacity at the base of midfield, now they’re reliant on a midfield trio – Gomes, Guimarães and Paquetá – who are too often bystanders.

Only Endrick offers any real glimmer of light. The 17-year-old was handed his starting debut by Dorival in the quarter-final in place of Vinícius. But to expect him to carry the team at such a young age, in a difficult moment, is too much to ask. Against Uruguay, he completed just two passes (one from a kick-off), struggling to deal with the physicality of La Celeste’s back line.

Endrick may be viewed as a saviour, but he alone will not fix the structural problems in midfield or the lack of cohesion throughout the team. The reality is that Brazil are now the fourth-best team in South America, behind Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia, who are on a 27-game unbeaten streak. Those sides do not necessarily have more talent than the Seleção, but they all have a have clear way of playing and strong, dogmatic coaches.

If things do not turn around quickly, Brazil are in danger of missing the 2026 World Cup. And if Dorival can not halt the spiral, they will probably be on their fifth manager since 2022.