(Reuters) - While Brazil enjoy a perfect record of two wins, five goals scored and none conceded from their two games at the Confederations Cup, another statistic has shown a less appealing side to their game.
Brazil committed 25 fouls during Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Mexico, the highest by any team in a single match at the tournament so far and more even than the 22 Uruguay conceded in the face of Spain’s relentless passing game.
Brazil are usually associated with the finer arts of the game, yet systematic fouling in midfield has often been just as much a part of their football culture, at both club and national team level, as the exuberant skills of their forwards.
Although there was no obvious violence in Wednesday’s match at the Castelao, Mexico repeatedly found their moves interrupted by so-called “tactical fouls” such as a sly trip or tug of the shirt.
“I was surprised and a little disappointed at the number of fouls that they have, constantly fouling,” said former United States defender Alexi Lalas, analysing the game for ESPN.
“We know how important set pieces are, and that is going to be something to look for if they keep fouling, rather than actually playing the game.”
The fact that Brazil picked up only two yellow cards for their 25 fouls suggested that FIFA may need to consider the way tactical fouls are dealt with by referees.
Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has courted controversy in the past by publicly complaining that his players were not fouling enough.
During a stint with Cruzeiro, he admitted that his team gave away an average of 25 fouls per match but said was one of the lowest numbers in the Brazilian championship at the time.
When he was at Palmeiras, there was uproar after a television crew outside the changing room recorded a private team talk in which he urged his players to kick a member of the opposing team.
Scolari was certainly not alone and there was a period in Brazilian football around 10 years ago where some coaches believed that committing more fouls than the opposition was the key to winning the game. Many regarded fouls as a tactical resource rather than an infringement on the laws of the games.
Yet, attitudes can change radically depending on which team is doing the fouling.
In his most recent spell in Brazilian club football with Palmeiras, Scolari was furious after his side were on the receiving end of systematic fouling.
“We have 150 fouls against Palmeiras, 20 against (striker) Kleber and yellow cards were not given,” he said.
“If the opponents take it in turns to kick foul the players and the statistics show that, it’s time for the federation to have a look at this type of refereeing.”
Many critics might agree with those sentiments after watching Brazil’s performance against Mexico.
Editing by Justin Palmer