RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil's World Cup capitulation was bad enough that it was always going to require a scapegoat. It looks like the host nation has found one.
Fred, a homegrown player and formerly a local hero, has borne as much of the brunt as anyone over the team's 7-1 semifinal defeat to Germany despite having little responsibility on defense.
Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari is expected to drop the center forward from the starting lineup for Saturday's third-place playoff against the Netherlands in Brasilia, as Brazil desperately tries to regain some pride and finish the tournament strongly.
[Photos: Brazil's drubbing by Germany in headlines]
"Our commitment is valid to the end of the World Cup," Scolari said.
For Fred, this World Cup has been nothing like what he hoped. One of Brazil's most popular players coming into the tournament, he had his face adorning billboards around the country and was especially loved among the female population.
But his poor displays on the pitch have disappointed the home fans. His every touch, every move and every attempted pass or turn was jeered toward the end of the Germany debacle.
It used to be so different. Fred used to tell reporters that it is "good to be Fred in Brazil." Not anymore.
"It leaves a scar that we'll have to carry with us for the rest of our lives," he said of the loss to Germany.
For Brazil, there is an eye to the future here, one spawned from necessity. Any major disappointment usually brings change and those most advanced in years are first on the chopping block. At 30, Fred falls into that category.
Suddenly, it seemed like he got old. Brazilian television commentators used to say that the fact Fred played in the Brazilian league was an advantage and made him a little bit of an unknown quantity for rival defenders. Now the script has flipped. Now the word is that local-based players are not up to international competition.
The skeptics might have a point. The standard of the Brazilian league is high – its champion Cruzeiro is a fantastically well-drilled outfit with plenty of flair and a lot of physicality. Fred's own team, Fluminense, is a potent outfit, too.
However, soccer is a slightly different game in Europe, with different emphases and tactical nuances. Given that virtually all of the best players in the world play there, South Americans included, that is the way the international game has naturally developed. Fred, approaching the twilight of his career, could not keep up.
Scolari made a point of noting that many of the players on the Brazil squad still will be around for the 2018 World Cup. On Saturday, surely the younger players will primarily make up the starting XI against the Netherlands.
That, in all probability, means a sad end for Fred with him being stuck on the bench.
Twelve months ago, he was the star of the Confederations Cup. Even two weeks ago, he was still beloved, being cheered by fans as he was substituted against Chile in the round of 16 and Scolari was booed for replacing him with Jo.
That is not the case any longer. Brazil is a warm and loving country, but its scapegoats get the raw end of the deal. Just ask fallen heroes of yesteryear.
Such is the likely fate for poor Fred, a man who dreamed of World Cup glory but found only heartache in its place.
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