Brazil require style re-think
If defeat presents an opportunity to reflect and learn, then last week could have been very significant in Brazilian football.
Brazil's quest to win Olympic gold was put back another four years after they went down 3-0 to Argentina in the semi-final in Beijing.
Following the match, under pressure coach Dunga was asked if his team had been too defensive. "Playing the same way," he shrugged, "we won the Copa America."
A year ago in Venezuela it was Brazil who came out on top 3-0 when they met their old rivals in the final. The game plan was similar - thwart Argentina's intricate passing moves in midfield and then break at pace down the flanks - and on that occasion it worked.
After the Copa America win Dunga was applauded by many Brazilian journalists as he made his way in to the post-match press conference.
Those who clapped then might be seen as having little right to criticize now. But that is the problem with the pragmatic 'result is the be all and end all' school of football. When it fails to achieve results there is nothing left to applaud.
I had expected Brazil to have more joy against Argentina's attack-minded full-backs but in the event, Argentina's extra attacking width was an important factor in beating the midfield blockade of Dunga's team.
In the long run, however, losing last Tuesday might just end up being good for Brazilian football. The more rabble rousing elements of the local media have tried to play their typical card, the one about the players not caring because they are a bunch of European-based mercenaries.
Hopefully, minds can now be focused on the idea that failure on the field might instead have explanations more specifically grounded in the game of football.
Johann Cruyff, one of the great masters, has often lamented that Brazil have turned into an overly pragmatic, counter-attacking team, but Cruyff's superb Holland side of 1974 played a part in that process.
They beat Brazil in what was effectively the semi-final of that year's World Cup, and the intense pressure they put on the ball made a huge impression on Brazilian coaches.
Brazil decided that in order to face the European challenge their players would have to be bigger, stronger, faster, more explosive.
Brazil's failure to win the 1982 World Cup also left a scar. Their team had a magnificently fluid and imaginative midfield, but were let down in both penalty areas and eliminated by Italy.
Many of the players from that tournament were in the team knocked out in the quarter-finals four years later, or the one which fell in the final of the 1983 Copa America, and even a mini-World Cup staged in Uruguay in 1980. Dunga has referred to them as "specialists in losing."
Many coaches in Brazil seized onto the idea that it was no longer possible to win titles with this style of play.
The physical evolution of the game had made it easier to close down space in midfield. The side that won had little need of dominating midfield possession - the key was to break quickly at the moment of transition, when the ball was won.
The idea has its merits, but it ain't necessarily so. Argentina's intricate patterns, with Fernando Gago knitting the side together so well in midfield, helped them to Olympic gold.
Even more significant, however, was Spain's triumph in Euro 2008.
"Spain, with a number of talented little guys and good collective play, showed the world the obvious - to the surprise of many - that a slower, more skilful and attractive style can also be efficient," said Tostao a World Cup winner for Brazil in 1970.
"Many Spaniards," he continued, "said that the team played in a Brazilian style. Evidently they were talking about previous eras. Many coaches, journalists and supporters, especially younger ones, need to forget what they have learned in order to learn again what it is to play good football in Brazil."
If losing an Olympic semi final to Argentina is what it takes to put Brazilian football back in touch with its own tradition for imaginative midfield play then indeed it is a small price to pay.
Your questions answered:
What do you think of Chelsea's Franco Di Santo? How is he rated in his homeland? Why wasn't he taken to the Olympics?
Very promising, a kind of young Roque Santa Cruz with his beanpole build, aerial threat but subtle ground skills. He never played professionally in Argentina - he's from close to the Chilean border, and made his name in Chile with Audax Italiano. Argentina took him to the South American Under-20 Championships at the start of last year, but decided he wasn't quite ready and he wasn't selected for the World Youth Cup squad.
Since then, of course, he's been a bit off the radar screen in Chelsea's reserves. If he had stayed another year he would have played in the Libertadores for Audax, and might have done enough to force his way into the Olympic squad.
It's a similar story for Liverpool defender Emiliano Insua, who played left-back last year in the World Youth Cup - but while he was in the reserves at Anfield he was overtaken by Fabian Monzon back at Boca Juniors, the club Insua left so early.
Some storming performances for Boca got Monzon into the Olympic side, and he's also set to join Hamburg, who will pay big money for him and presumably give him plenty of first team opportunities.
It tends to point to the view that young South American players can benefit from staying an extra couple of years and consequently coming over to Europe at a higher level.