SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil’s traditional yellow jersey has lost its all-conquering allure.
The most famous shirt in soccer, which graced the shoulders of Pele, Garrincha and Tostao, Romario, Ronaldo and Rivaldo, now isn’t attractive enough to lure Diego Costa, the striker who would rather play for Spain.
A decade ago, it would have been hard to find a player willing to say “No” to the Selecao. But when Costa chose a few weeks ago to play for Spain instead of Brazil, not many people were even surprised.
Quarterfinal losses at the last two World Cups left diminished the golden aura of the national team, which reached three straight World Cup finals from 1994-2002, winning two of them.
At its own World Cup next year, Brazil’s team will be far from a sure thing. It has star forward Neymar. It brought back coach Luiz Felipe Scolari to try to repeat his success from 2002. It convincingly won the Confederations Cup in June, beating world champion Spain in the final of that World Cup warmup tournament.
But FIFA ranks Brazil 11th in the world — behind Colombia, Switzerland and England. Brazil wouldn’t even be seeded in the World Cup draw on Dec. 6 if it wasn’t the tournament host.
The 2002 winners arrived as a top contender at the 2006 World Cup. Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, the World Cup-winning coach in 1994, packed his team with stars — Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Kaka, Adriano and Roberto Carlos. But they fell to France and Zinedine Zidane in the quarterfinals.
Brazil’s glow didn’t return at the 2010 World Cup. The result was identical — elimination in the quarterfinals, this time by the Netherlands.
With his goal-scoring skills, Costa could have walked into Scolari’s starting lineup. Instead, in becoming an asset for Spain, his naturalized country, Costa demonstrated that soccer’s center of gravity no longer lies with Brazil.
To wrest it back, Brazil must win its World Cup.