There is no utility in excuses. Brazilians everywhere would surely be the first to admit to their futility, even now.
But as disappointment floods soccer’s spiritual home on Friday night, it is difficult to escape the feeling that Brazil’s 2018 World Cup campaign, one that had teemed with promise, was in part derailed by one of FIFA’s stupidest rules.
It was derailed by other things as well, many of them wearing red. But if there was a lasting image of Friday’s Belgium upset, it was red flying past yellow.
It was Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku powering past Fernandinho in midfield, untouched.
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It was a telling image, too. Because it was emblematic of the difference between Friday’s Brazil and the one that had developed into a definitive World Cup favorite. The difference was defensive midfielder Casemiro.
And the reason Casemiro was sitting on the bench while Lukaku skipped by his countrymen was that absurd rule.
Many punters took to Twitter to slam the rule as they realised the impact it had on the round of 16 clash.
Casemiro was sorely missed. Fernandinho was guilty for both goals. He couldn't do the job of Casemiro. What kind of dumb rule is it that you are ruled out of the next game if you pick up a yellow card. So unfair on players and teams. #BRABEL #WorldCup
— Martin Joseph P (@martin_josephp) July 6, 2018
I really don't understand the yellow card rule. If you get 2 yellows in 5 matches you miss a big match. That should be removed. With Casemiro, Brazil would have won easily
— Javanildo (@FootbalFifaPlay) July 6, 2018
Casemiro suspension was the downfall of Brazil
— Clintmash Jr. Rule (@7manJR) July 6, 2018
If Casemiro had played i have confidence the game would have been totally different. The yellow card rule has to change now.
— Kev (@KAlbertoL) July 6, 2018
Brazil lost this game coz of 1 reason and 1 reason only.
Casemiro wasn’t there.
— AJ. (@A_mza96) July 6, 2018
Twt Arbeloa: “You don't know how incredibly good and important @Casemiro is until you don't have him.”
— SB (@Realmadridplace) July 6, 2018
No greater tribute to Casemiro than how much worse Brazil and Real Madrid play when he's not there.
— Andy West (@andywest01) July 6, 2018
Casemiro will now get the respect and adulation he deserves. Makes a massive difference in this Brazil team and for Real Madrid.💪🏾
— Damian (@FootballFact101) July 6, 2018
Fernandinho, his first start in the World Cup 2018 replacing Casemiro due to suspension. In 35 minutes so far he scored an own goal and then a truly pathetic effort at tackling Lukaku on the half way line in the build up to the second. Such is nightmare.
— Mootaz Chehade (@MHChehade) July 6, 2018
FIFA’s yellow card suspension rule
Casemiro was suspended because he had picked up a yellow card against Switzerland three weeks ago, then another one this past Monday against Mexico. That’s it. He was suspended for these fouls, 15 days apart:
He and Brazil were victims of cruel punishment that didn’t fit the crime. FIFA rules call for a one-game suspension for any player who picks up two yellow cards throughout his team’s first five matches at the World Cup. And if that sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is.
It’s essentially the equivalent of a basketball player being banned for Game 5 of an NBA playoff series after picking up technical fouls in Games 1 and 4. Or an NFL player missing a conference championship game because of personal fouls in the divisional round and a late regular-season game.
The point of the rule is to keep the game clean; to deter excessive fouling, or anything else that infringes upon the sport’s beauty. But it is nonetheless grievously flawed and overly harsh.
Yellow cards double as “cautions.” They are warnings. And in most soccer competitions, they more or less expire at the end of a given match, as they should. (In top European leagues, five yellows cost you one match in a 30-plus-game season.) Their purpose isn’t to restrict players over long time horizons. Or at least it shouldn’t be.
Plus, yellow cards are fickle. Casemiro’s were probably deserved, but many are brandished based on refereeing whims or in-game precedent. Some are for violent tackles. Others are for time-wasting or verbal tirades.
At the very least, the suspension threshold should be three yellow cards over five games, or back-to-back cautions. Maybe two in three during the group stage. But two yellows, three matches apart? Certainly not cause for a ban.
Casemiro’s importance to Brazil
Casemiro is Brazil’s second-most important player. He’s a one-man defensive shield. He sits at the base of the Brazilian midfield, and only departs to snuff out opponent attacks.
Evidence of his value was all over the place in the Round of 16 against Mexico. He intervenes in and around his own penalty area.
He nips counterattacks in the bud higher up the field.
He covers for fullbacks who bomb forward. He goes sideline to sideline, blanketing the width of the field, making Brazil as impermeable in transition as can be.
His presence was precisely what Brazil lacked against Belgium. Never mind that his replacement, Fernandinho, was credited with an own goal on Belgium’s opener. It was Fernandinho’s inability to sense danger and stem the Belgian counterattacking tide at source that hurt Brazil, especially in the first half. The second goal was one of several examples.
Again, Casemiro’s absence was one of many reasons the Brazilians faltered. Poor finishing and rotten luck played a big role as well. So did Roberto Martinez’s mast plan. But the suspension was certainly damaging.
Casemiro and Brazil join long list of victims
Poetically, this is the second World Cup in a row that Brazil has been victimised.
Center back and captain Thiago Silva was suspended for the disastrous semifinal against Germany four years ago.
Suspension for second yellows has been a nightmare for Brazil. Ramires was suspended in 2010 vs Netherlands, and replacement Felipe Melo was sent-off. Thiago Silva missed 2014 semifinal vs Germany, in came Dante who was horrible. Casemiro out vs Belgium, and Fernandinho own-goal
— Aswin (@Zizouology) July 6, 2018
Brazil has also benefitted. Back when two yellows cards in six games drew a suspension, Michael Ballack missed the 2002 World Cup final after being cautioned in the semis. Brazil beat Germany 2-0.
Countless other players have had dreams dashed as well. So Brazil is far from the first team to be harmed. And unless FIFA comes to its senses, it won’t be the last, either.
But it’s time FIFA did come to its senses. The law was recently changed to grant players clean slates heading into the semifinals. It’s long overdue for a more significant amendment.
Henry Bushnell – Yahoo Sports