By Brian Homewood
(Reuters) - Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari was hoping to send an optimistic message to the team's supporters in Saturday’s World Cup third-place match but their lifeless performance in a 3-0 defeat by the Netherlands on Saturday did exactly the opposite.
Brazil's defensive woes manifested themselves once again as they fell 2-0 behind in less than 20 minutes, but their problems were evident all over the field.
Without the injured Neymar, their only world-class player, Brazil were confused in midfield and toothless in attack, lacking any sort of spark or creativity.
Even taking into account the possibility that Brazil were still shell-shocked after their 7-1 mauling by Germany on Tuesday, it was an alarmingly lackluster display for a team that has always had talent, whatever their tactics.
The meek manner in which they capitulated to a Dutch side that had failed to score in their previous two matches, including two periods of extra time, was extraordinary given the rich history of Brazilian football.
The defense once again cracked under the slightest hint of pressure.
Central defender Thiago Silva, whose return after suspension was meant to stiffen the backline, gave away a penalty and was booked after 90 seconds for a tripping Arjen Robben as he sped towards goal, handing the Dutch a early lead.
Another disaster followed when David Luiz's attempted to head the ball clear but it feel straight to Daley Blind who fired into the top corner.
There was a general feeling of apprehension every time Luiz was on the ball and his forays upfield, often swashbuckling earlier in the competition, lacked any sort of conviction.
Brazilian fans may have feared that another thrashing was on the way and, although that never materialized, there was a complete lack of conviction in their play.
Right back Maicon was a pale shadow of the player who, at his peak, would charge to the byline with tremendous power and pace.
Maxwell, who replaced Marcelo at left back, managed to give the team a little more stability and discipline but was negligible as an attacking force.
Of the five midfielders, Oscar and Willian showed flashes of creativity but Ramires, Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo produced, at best, unproductive exchanges of passes.
Rather than the five-times world champions, it appeared to be the midfield of a middle-ranking European team.
Oscar, however, was always looking for the ball and testing the Dutch defenders with probing runs, and he seems to be the one Brazilian player whose international future is guaranteed.
The biggest disappointment was in attack where Jo, the lone striker, proved just as ineffective as Fred, the hugely-criticized player he replaced, and it was hard to believe that Brazil has previously been represented in that position by the likes of Careca, Romario and Ronaldo.
Both Fred and Jo were victims of Scolari’s insistence of playing with a target men, even though Brazilian football is chronically short of that type of player.
“This will mark us for the rest of our lives. We need to try and lift our heads, look for strength in our families,” Ramires said. “We apologize to the Brazilian people.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)