And so Casemiro chased Luka Modric’s shadow for 120 minutes. With so much space in behind Neymar and Vinicius Jr on Brazil’s left channel, the defensive midfielder shuttled to cover the full back, which allowed Modric to mastermind Croatia’s quarterfinal victory against the five-time world champion. Here was the old master, grin and the wrinkles of a warrior, doing what he did best — passing the opponents out of the match and out of the tournament.
His grandiose last dance — one that defied the logic of physical fitness following prolongations against Japan — had tortured Tite, who fled the scene. The self-proclaimed humanist coach of Brazil stormed away, alone to the dressing room, his apparent act of cowardice prompted by the disintegration of his team — so balanced for so long but just not when it mattered most.
This World Cup was supposed to be Tite’s redemption and Brazil’s conquest of a sixth star, but rather Qatar proved a new disillusion. It was above all deja vu — for Tite and Brazil. Four years ago, Belgium and Romelu Lukaku, playing on the right channel, had shocked the Brazilians in a quarterfinal for the ages in Kazan, the graveyard of the greats. Tite was rattled, rebuilt, reinforcing the midfield, seeking a new balance, and blessed with a new generation of talent shed the dependence on Neymar. A hiccup against Cameroon aside, Brazil danced their way to the last eight and then it happened all over again — perhaps in an even more cruel, heartbreaking fashion. But the result was the same and for all the criticism, laments and theories that followed in a damning post-mortem. Brazil had crashed out again against European opposition: France and Zinedine Zidane in 2006, the Netherlands and Wesley Sneijder in 2010, Germany and their collective in 2014, Belgium and KDB in 2018 and Croatia and Modric in 2022.
The causes? In chronological order: hubris, emotional implosion, pressure, fate, and loss of concentration. In isolation, all these reasons were perfectly acceptable, less so perhaps for Brazil, a nation that shaped the global game through Pele and the artistry of his contemporaries. They cemented the primacy of the sport, a nigh religion around the globe, and the World Cup, a global TV spectacular and one of the last cultural phenomena that bind humanity.
Following Brazil’s golden epoch, culminating with those three delirious weeks in Mexico in 1970, the Selecao claimed the world crown two more times, but elimination after elimination in recent times have made Brazil’s status fragile: is it still the futebol nation? Have Europe and its industrialisation of scouring for, and developing, talent surpassed Brazil?
Brazil can revert to type — appoint the next domestic coach, build on the generation of Vinicius Jr. and attempt it all over again in 2026 — or does this moment require more reflection and a more incisive solution? Some voices in Brazil argue in favour of a foreign coach to lead the Selecao to introduce fresh ideas and new methods, but those suggestions have, predictably, infuriated many domestic coaches. A brash Bolsonarista, Renato Gaucho rejected the idea entirely. He should know better.
At Flamengo, he was among the successors of Jorge Jesus, In 2019, Jesus arrived in Rio De Janeiro and turned the next 12 months into a victory parade, battering local football paradigms, winning just about everything, and getting serenaded by the Maracana — ‘Mister, Misteeeeeer’ — where fans are notoriously critical and unimpressed. It was the style and ethos of success that resonated. Flamengo played modern football, featuring a collective high press. The notion of beautiful football in sync with modernity should be self-evident in Brazilian football. In reality, it’s anything but with coaches often applying a conservative philosophy, under pressure from the media and supporters
The Portuguese showed it can be different, but he has been a tough act to follow — Gaucho never came close. Even so, this season eight of the 20 top-flight clubs will be led by a foreign coach. Abel Ferreira stands out for his excellent work at Palmeiras. So why not a non-Brazilian coach for the national team? The field of competent coaches in Brazil is very small. In fact, it is hard to find Brazilian coaches in South America, let alone in Europe, reflecting perhaps the paucity of ideas that they bring to the game. Now, they are also losing space at home.
However, the cultural resistance might simply be too big: no foreigner has ever been in charge of what is ultimately a national symbol. It remains a taboo and so CBF president Ednaldo Rodrigues, a novice in the role, has a crucial decision to take as the qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup draw near: will he do what has never been done and trust a man born outside of Brazil’s borders or run the risk that the next Luka Modric eliminated Brazil again from the World Cup?