Brazil's Menezes under pressure after Olympic defeat
In the culture of Brazilian football, there are few crimes more serious than losing in a final.
The celebrations have been planned and the champagne is on ice. Then, when things go wrong, everyone sees it and the humiliation is complete as you fall from a great height.
What kind of landing awaits coach Mano Menezes after Brazil lost 2-1 to Mexico in the Olympic final? When Brazil win the players get the credit. When they lose the coach gets the blame. It was ever thus.
Going home with the gold medal would have solidified Menezes' position as the man to take Brazil to the next World Cup. In defeat nothing is solid. If the new president of the local FA wants to play to the gallery, then getting rid of Menezes is the easy option.
Brazil players (in yellow) are distraught after losing 2-1 to Mexico in the football final at London 2012. Photo: Reuters
In part the coach has contributed to his own precarious position with a glaring error in his Olympic squad selection.
True, he was unlucky to lose first-choice keeper Rafael Cabral on the eve of the competition. Two replacements were used, Neto and Gabriel. Neither looked secure.
But a big part of the problem was the presence in front of the keeper of centre-back Juan, who at this stage of his career is not ready for such a challenge - and since he is nowhere in the running for a 2014 place, it was not a selection that made any sense.
Juan operated as the left-sided centre-back. And since Marcelo, the full-back on that flank, is far more accomplished going forward than tracking back, Brazil were vulnerable to attacks down the opponents' right.
Menezes in effect acknowledged his own mistake with a change in his starting line-up. After a nervy quarter-final win over Honduras, striker Hulk, one of his three over-age players, was sacrificed to make way for Alex Sandro in an attempt to shore up the left side.
After a sticky start in the semi-final against South Korea, Brazil pulled away to win 3-0. Against Mexico they instantly found themselves a goal down and, after a deeply unimpressive first half-hour Hulk was introduced to kick some life into the Brazilian forward line - though he was also at fault with a piece of slack marking for the second Mexican goal.
And Menezes hardly covered himself with glory as his team attempted to claw their way back into the game. He fell into the common Brazilian vice of becoming obsessed with the referee, continually crying out for yellow cards to be given to the Mexicans. It hardly helped his team.
He has often talked of the need for Brazil to play with more patience and this was a time to show it.
The Mexicans were happy to interrupt the flow of the game. Instead of getting mad Brazil needed to get even, passing and moving at pace, wearing the Mexicans down until the gaps appeared.
But if Wembley went all wobbly for Menezes, then he can look back with more pleasure and take more positives from his team's previous five displays at Cardiff, Manchester and Newcastle, where three goals in every game sent the fans home happy.
Sceptics may argue that Brazil fell to the first truly accomplished team they faced. They may have a point, but so do the optimists when they point out that considerable progress has been made in the quest to find something of greater long-term importance than an Olympic gold - a coherent, collective idea of play.
In the two years of his reign, Menezes has brought on a new generation and weaned Brazil off an excessive dependence on the counter-attack.
Perhaps the most significant development has been the emergence of Oscar as a bright, busy and versatile organiser of the team's possession.
He looks like being a key man in 2014 - likewise Thiago Silva to marshal the defence, Romulo to link play in midfield, Leandro Damiao as a strong and improving centre forward, and the magnificently talented Neymar - though he struggled once more against opponents who were adept at reducing his space, and must surely be pondering that a move to Europe would give him more experience against this kind of marking.
Menezes has gone a fair way down the road to producing a side with the potential to win in style in 2014 and more of the blueprint might be on view this Wednesday when Brazil play a friendly against Sweden.
Centre-backs Dede and David Luiz will battle it out for the right to partner Thiago Silva. And there is an intriguing recall for Ramires.
The Chelsea midfielder was dropped after last year's Copa America because it was thought he did not fit naturally into the team's 4-2-3-1 formation.
He lacked the passing game to be one of the two and was not enough of an attacking specialist to operate in the line of three.
In bringing him back, then, Menezes is not only acknowledging the player's storming club form towards the end of last season, he is presumably also thinking of a tweak.
The Olympics have perhaps given him the idea that his preferred formation can leave the team too vulnerable down the flanks. Ramires in the second line of a 4-3-2-1 now becomes a possible variation.
This week's friendly, then, gives us the chance to assess some of the tactical lessons of the Olympic tournament. And as well as its long-term implications, the match is also important in the short term.
The 'Menezes out' fraternity will be sharpening their knives in the event of another disappointing performance.
Brazil have a chance to bounce back quickly from Saturday's defeat. If they fail to take it, then Menezes will be sailing in waters so turbulent that he might be well advised to make room on his coaching staff for Ben Ainslie, Great Britain's gold medal-winning sailor.
Questions on South American football to email@example.com and I'll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag:
Q) How do you think River Plate will do on their return to the top flight? Also, what do you think of their young player Manuel Lanzini who showed glimpses of quality in their opening game and what's behind the departure of Fernando Cavenaghi?
A) They've now lost one and won one. The Argentine league has been so up and down over recent years that it is hard to make any hard and fast predictions. But I think there are some grounds for optimism - so often big clubs who go down are cleansed by the process of clawing their way back up.
Little Lanzini is an attacking midfielder worthy of high hopes. On Cavenaghi, the experience of the veterans was useful in the second division, but retaining too many of them would hold back the coming generation. Funes Mori scored both their goals this weekend - he may not have got a game if Cavenaghi was still around.