Today's World Soccer game between Brazil and Spain at Mar de Plata puts two coaches on trial - Brazil's Claudio Coutinho and Spain's Ladislao Kubala. Both are criticized after the poor performance of their teams in the opening games in Group Three. Brazil could only draw with Sweden in the heavy rain of Mar del Palata and Spain lost, 2-1, to the Austrians in Buenos Aires.
Nobody really expected spectacular things from Spain in this World Cup, but with the Brazilians, it is another story. Three times winners of the trophy, the expectations for Brazil are always immense, even when the team is something less than dazzling, as has been the case in the last two Cups.
The major accusation against Coutinho, an Army captain who specialized in physical training before becoming a soccer coach, is that he has blunted the ebullient natural skills of his players, trying to turn his team into a strong, fit and over-combative unit. In the game against Sweden, the Brazilians were pitifully short of their famous flair, and were lucky to escape with a 1-1 draw, even though they did have what would have been a winning goal ruled out in the last second because the referee had blown the whistle.
It is difficult to see just what Coutinho has gained by his methods of blood and iron. Against Sweden, the Brazilian defense was quite unsafe; Oscar, the center-back, being especially vulnerable. In the 1970 World Cup, the comparative weakness of the Brazilian defense did not matter because the attack was so strong, but now there are no heirs to Pele, Gerson both of whom are here, and disapproving of what they've seen), Jairzinho and Tostao.
Rivelino remains, but there are fears that his injured foot won't heal in time for him to play today and in any case, this is a jaded Rivelino. Coutinho says that if he cannot play, his place will be taken by Dirceu, an energetic but essentially bread and butter player who seldom breaks the old Samurai taboo: by doing something unexpected.
Coutinho, whistling to keep his spirits up, insists that the first match is always the hardest one, that his young players will now settle down, that there is no point in making changes. Here he may be right, as he has left behind several unorthodox players who might have given the team the imagination it lacks.
Not that Spain is any great shakes. There seems to be dissension among the players from the two famous Madrid clubs Atletico and Real. Juanito, the Real right winger, says that Santillana should be the center-forward rather than Atletico's Ruben Cano, who is in any case an Argentinian, and most dubiously qualified. I cannot see Santillana inspiring Spain. Kubala, at a press conference, angrily rejected suggestions that his 33-year-old skipper, Pirri, has been criticized for his performance as a sweeper by the other palyers, but this is clearly an ominous straw in the wind.