Playing nice or playing to win? A no-brainer for Brazil

Sao Paulo: Brazil are winning ugly but the home side are in the World Cup semi-finals and they are not about to start apologising for it.

Manager Luiz Felipe Scolari has long understood that football is about winning, not playing nice.

Scolari said after their penalty shootout triumph over Chile in the last 16 that "we are being too polite to foreign teams" and that "it is perhaps time to defend ourselves and go back to my own style, a bit more aggressive."

They certainly did that on Friday in their battling 2-1 quarter-final victory over Colombia that set up a last-four clash with Germany.

The image that will forever remain in the memory is the slim frame of Brazil forward Neymar writhing in pain after Juan Zuniga put him out the tournament with a brutal knee in the back that fractured his vertebra.

But Brazil were hardly innocent victims. Scolari`s team committed 31 fouls to Colombia`s 23 and were lucky not to have goalkeeper Julio Cesar sent off for the challenge that led to Colombia`s penalty.

Colombia`s best player James Rodriguez was fouled six times, as was their influential midfielder Juan Cuadrado. Even Zuniga was halted unfairly on five occasions.

Brazil`s players "were clearly taking turns to foul James Rodriguez," Andre Kfouri wrote in Saturday`s Lance! sports newspaper.

In contrast, no Brazilian was fouled more than four times, according to FIFA`s statistics.

The wily old Scolari knows what he is doing and he has everything to lose, having repeatedly promised fans he will win Brazil the World Cup for a record sixth time. The pressure on the home side is enormous.

Truth be told, this is not Brazil`s worst team by far and not one without great talents.

The home fans realise this. The industrial approach may have disappointed football purists, but no one in Sao Paulo or Rio or Belo Horizonte could care less how they win.

They might want to play "the Brazilian way" and they know they have players who can do things most mortals cannot. But right now, winning is paramount.

The fact is that when it comes to playing great football, Brazil is judged to a higher standard. They played such glittering football, in winning the World Cup in 1970 and losing it in 1982, that it defined the concept of “the beautiful game.”

But the glorious failure of 1982 and again in 1986, allied to the new commercialism and professionalism that was turning a sport into a business, led Brazil to re-examine the way they played the game. Playing well was no longer what mattered. Winning was.

Sometimes it failed, as in 1990 when they were knocked out by Argentina in the second round. Sometimes it paid off, such as four years later when they beat Italy on penalties to lift their fourth World Cup title.

Scolari knows how to win at all costs, and has done so with clubs like Gremio and Palmeiras – where he would throw balls on the field to halt the momentum of opponents – as well as with Brazil, who he guided to the World Cup title in 2002.

Felipao is on track to do it again and he will be a hero if he does. No apologies.

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