There might be no soccer coach in the world under more pressure than Brazil’s Mano Menezes. Brazilians always have high expectations of their team and their coaches, but that scrutiny is compounded when their country is hosting the World Cup in less than two years.
Anything less than a legitimate championship contender will not be acceptable.
The 2014 World Cup is scheduled to kick off June 12 in Sao Paulo and conclude July 13 with the championship game in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium. Between now and then, Menezes must convince the Brazilian fans that their team is among the elite squads in the world.
He lost a lot of respect after his heavily-favored under-23 team, including the fabulous Neymar, lost the Olympic gold medal to Mexico in London.
The coach was booed this month when Brazil struggled to a 1-0 win over South Africa in an exhibition. An 8-0 win over China a few days later lifted the national mood, but fans fretted (and booed) again last week as Brazil needed an injury-time penalty kick from Neymar to escape with a 2-1 win over Argentina in the first leg of the Americas Superclasico, a home-and-away series in which Brazil and Argentina draw rosters from their domestic leagues.
The second leg is Oct. 3 in Argentina.
The crowd chanted “Goodbye, Mano” and “Come back, Felipao,” referring to 2002 World Cup champion coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. The former coach left Palmeiras this month, and many fans want him to replace Menezes.
“I have never asked for guarantees,” Menezes told reporters. “I know what I need to do to keep my job until the World Cup. We have to be smart about how we measure our success, sometimes the results won’t come with great performances, it’s not always possible for that to happen.”
One thing he is doing is bringing back Kaká for the first time in two years. The Real Madrid veteran was added to the roster for upcoming matches Oct. 11 against Iraq in Sweden and Oct. 16 against Japan in Poland. Kaká has not played for the national team since the quarterfinal loss to Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup.
“We need players as experienced as Kaká is with the national team,” the coach said. “We think that he will come here and show that he has improved. We know that this season will be key for him so we can start counting on him as a national-team player again in the future. Players who have been through what Kaká has been through have to reinvent themselves. … He has been practicing and playing more forward than he used to, and that means we can have him playing together with Oscar in the same team. We’ll see how it works.”
In Argentina, Sergio Aguero and Pablo Zabaleta were called up by coach Alejandro Sabella for next month’s World Cup qualifiers Oct. 12 against Uruguay and Oct. 16 against. But Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez was left off the list. Aguero did not face Paraguay or Peru because of a knee injury.
• Juninho on fire: The Los Angeles Galaxy clinched an MLS playoff spot after Juninho scored two goals in a 4-2 win over Toronto last week. The 23-year-old Brazilian midfielder, on loan from Sao Paulo, has scored seven goals in his past seven games. L.A. was mired in last place early this summer, but is on a 12-3-2 run and in second place in the Western Conference behind San Jose.
• Bookshelf: Looking for a new soccer book to keep you occupied during those few hours a day you can’t find a match on TV? Here are a few titles to check out. Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Spain, Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey — and even Iraq — are Destined to Become the Kings of the World’s Most Popular Sport. The international bestseller by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski is out in paperback. It is like the Moneyball of soccer. The new edition includes chapters to Spain’s 2010 World Cup win, and updates on the financial situation of Manchester United and Barcelona. La Roja: How Soccer Conquered Spain and How Spanish Soccer Conquered the World, by Jimmy Burns, traces Spanish soccer from its inception to the influx of South American, Italian and Dutch stars. He goes behind the scenes of the Barcelona v. Real Madrid rivalry and the World Cup championship team. Ajax: The Dutch, The War, The Strange Tale of Soccer During Europe’s Darkest Hour, also by Kuper, examines the history of Amsterdam club Ajax against the backdrop of World War II.
• Meet Ken Arena: New FIU men’s soccer coach Ken (Son of Bruce) Arena, son of Bruce Arena, and his staff would like to meet FIU alumni and the South Florida soccer community, so they are hosting a “Meet the FIU Coaches” event from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Woody’s West End Tavern in Miami Springs (600 Payne Dr.) Admission is $20 and includes hors d’oeuvres and beer. The Manchester United-Newcastle match will be shown, and FIU’s 1982 national championship team will be honored. Information: call Boomer Bray 305-496-7171.
• Family fun: The Miami Soccer Festival is Sunday at Kendall Soccer Park (8011 SW 127 Ave). Tournament for ages 5 and up, kid zone, food and entertainment. Information: miamisoccerfestival.org.