Brazil suffered their first ever defeat by an African side when they lost to Cameroon in the group stage of the 2022 World Cup. Just over three months later they went down 2-1 to Morocco in Tangiers -- a 2-1 debut win for the Moroccans over Brazil and a wonderful way for the Atlas Lions to enjoy the party they were hosting to celebrate reaching the semifinals in Qatar.
From a Brazil point of view, though, this is emphatically not a disaster, a disgrace, an embarrassment or any of the other terms that are commonly used when the national team are defeated.
Morocco had their World Cup team on parade. Brazil's line up featured seven members of the Qatar squad, just four of whom began the fateful quarterfinal against Croatia. If Morocco were at full strength, Brazil hardly have the means at the moment to define full strength; they are in a strange phase. While they wait for the next coach to step in (with Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti on top of the wishlist), Under-20 manager Ramon Meneses was in charge, almost certainly for this game only. His squad selection was somewhat idiosyncratic; promotion for five of his U20 squad, and some names surprisingly left out, chief among them Gabriel Martinelli and Bruno Guimaraes. The accusation that he has not been watching their games is surely justified. Meneses had his hands full with the punishing schedule of the South American Under-20 Championships but it barely matters as his choices are hardly definitive. The new coach will have his own preferences. Against Morocco, then, Brazil were hardly starting a new cycle. But neither were they just going round in circles. There is always something to learn from high pressure games -- and this, with a big, exhilarated crowd in the stadium, surely counts as one of those.
- Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)
Given the scratch nature of the team, Brazil were probably better collectively than could have been expected. Their high press was sufficiently organised to cause Morocco some problems and turn goalkeeper Yassine Bounou into a gibbering wreck. So reliable in Qatar, now Bounou looked a constant danger to his own team, with poor passes and ill-judged lunges off his line. Brazil enjoyed the best of the first half hour, especially with occasional quick combinations of Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo and Lucas Paqueta. One such move ended with Paqueta sliding a pass to set up Rony, whose panicky shot went over.
Otherwise, though, Rony left a good impression on his debut. He is an interesting gnat-like striker, well developed by Palmeiras coach Abel Ferreira from an erratic winger to a versatile figure capable of operating wide, in the penalty area or work back down the flanks. As a late developer -- he is approaching 28 -- he is too old in today's market to attract interest from top European clubs. But he did enough on debut to suggest that he might have an international future.
On the half hour, though, Morocco struck. The best of their team is the quick little exchanges they play from the flanks, and one such move broke the deadlock. Not for the first time the defensive deficiencies of Brazil right-back Emerson Royal were exposed. He was caught in possession, and Sofiane Boufal played a clever one-two with Bilal El Khannouss before shooting home deftly on the turn.
Brazil were worth their equaliser some 25 minutes from time, even if it needed some collaboration from the Morocco keeper. Switched to the right of the midfield trio, Paqueta played a disguised square pass to Casemiro on the edge of the area. The shooting position did not look great, and neither was the shot, but it squirmed through Bounou and over the line.
As the second half turned into a parade of substitutes, there was a danger that some intensity might be taken out of the game. But Morocco wanted to send their fans home happy and won the game just after a short pause for a floodlight dip. It was a combination of three replacements. Playing out under pressure, Brazil lost the ball to left-back Yahya Attiyat-Allah, and his cross was chested down by Walid Cheddira for a gloriously emphatic volley from Abdelhamid Sabiri.
Brazil went 4-2-4 in a bid to get back level, but as a number of top European teams found out in Qatar, Morocco are a tough nut to crack, and played out time until the fans greeted the final whistle with an explosion of joy.
But assuming Meneses leaves a report for his permanent successor, some positive aspects from the Selecao's performance might well be included.
With the possible exception of the decisive goal, Eder Militao gave a sound performance in his first game as Brazil's senior centre-back. Teenage midfielder Andrey Santos was not overawed on debut, nor, as we have seen, was Rony. In the uncertainty over the international future of Neymar, Vinicius seems happy with the responsibility of becoming the team's most potent attacking threat, and his Real Madrid teammate Rodrygo comes up with enough little moments to keep the hope alive that he will become the brains of the attack.
It would appear that both Madrid stars would be happy to see their club coach become their national team boss -- and so now the task of Brazil's FA president is to talk Ancelotti into taking the job.