Brazilian soccer fans were already in a funk after a year that saw a string of poor results, a coaching void and a political tug of war at the country’s federation.
Things got even worse Sunday after Brazil failed to qualify for the Paris Olympics after a loss to archrival Argentina, meaning the two-time defending champion will not be part of the tournament this summer.
“It is sad, but it is more of an embarrassment,” striker John Kennedy said after the 1-0 loss. “We should have wanted to win more than we did.”
Brazil also failed to qualify for the 1992 and 2004 editions of the Olympic tournament, but those blips didn’t coincide with a crisis for the senior national team. Brazil is only in sixth place in South American qualifying for the 2026 World Cup and its biggest star Neymar has been out with a serious knee injury since October.
Some fans and analysts had hoped 17-year-old striker Endrick — who is set to join Real Madrid this summer — would provide some cause for optimism by showcasing his talent during the Olympic qualifying tournament. And many supporters had been hoping to see Endrick and the 32-year-old Neymar play together on the Olympic team in Paris and lead Brazil to an unprecedented third straight gold medal.
But the Brazilian teenager scored only twice in seven matches in Olympic qualifying. Argentina’s World Cup-winning midfielder Thiago Almada netted five.
The Olympic soccer tournament features mainly Under-23 players and does not carry nearly the same status as the World Cup or contintental championships — such as the Copa America that starts in June — but missing out completely still stings the pride of many Brazilians.
Especially those who are viewing Endrick as the country’s next big star, and had been expecting him to show that he could help lead the senior team’s attack alongside Vinicius Jr. and Rodrygo at the Copa America.
Meanwhile, Brazil’s senior team will return to action in March in friendlies against England and Spain amid serious concerns about its current form.
Last year, Brazil lost a home match in World Cup qualifying for the first time ever; 1-0 to Argentina at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. It also lost at Uruguay and Colombia in the South American round-robin competition after two poor performances.
New coach Dorival Júnior was only hired in January after the president of the Brazilian soccer confederation, Ednaldo Rodrigues, failed to fulfil his promise to bring in Madrid’s Carlo Ancelotti. Previous coach Tite stepped down after Brazil lost in the quarterfinals of the 2022 World Cup, and the team had been led by Fernando Diniz on an interim basis last year.
The frustration of seeing Argentina win the World Cup in Qatar as well as the last Copa América has only added to the pressure facing Dorival as he takes up the job — even before Sunday’s loss.
“Brazil wasted a full year in preparations because we waited for a top coach (Ancelotti) who had signed no contract with us,” said former Brazil left-back Júnior. “We burned a promising coach, Fernando Diniz, just so he could be interim for a year. The time to fix all this for the next World Cup is very short.”
Rodrigues, the conferederation head, is also facing calls for his resignation. He was removed by a Rio de Janeiro court in December due to irregularities in his election but returned weeks later after a ruling from Brazil’s top court. His full case is yet to be reviewed.
History, though, shows that missing out on the Olympics doesn’t necessarily bode ill for the future.
The team that failed to qualify for the Barcelona Games in 1992 included Cafu, Márcio Santos and Roberto Carlos, who all went on to win the World Cup. And the squad that missed out on the Athens Games in 2004 included future stars Maicon, Diego and Robinho.
“They will have to prove this elimination is no different from those two,” said 2002 World Cup winner Vampeta. “There’s great players in this team, but they will be judged by whether they can drag the senior team out of the quagmire it is in now. It is an uphill battle to end this crisis.”
Reporting by The Associated Press.
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