Lessons of World Cup fiasco must be learned to allow rebuilding of country's shattered self-image
The world is running out of adjectives to describe the World Cup humiliation of Brazil by Germany. The scale of the historic defeat, however, may be best measured by the fact that the arena where it happened did not erupt into rioting, but instead saw some of the Brazilian fans cheer every touch by the German players in the second half of the semi-final. The match was too “one-way” to provoke an angry local reaction in the stadium. Total embarrassment overwhelmed any urge of the fans to run amok.
First defeat on home soil in a competitive game. Worst loss in nearly a century. A Brazilian World Cup scoring record broken by an ageing German player. A scoreline that could have even been more incredible had the Germans really stepped up to their highest gear. It was as if a country that has fallen so much in love with football that the game is played on every beach had fielded a beach team against the German nationals.
Every team can have an off day. Even Brazil do not have the divine right never to be at the wrong end of a 3-0 scoreline. It can happen, and so can 4-0 or even 5-0. But 7-1 capping an unimpressive campaign confirms the end of an era. It was unbelievable yet unmistakable. Brazil scraped through the group stage and never played convincing football on their way to the semi-final. The team and its fans were driven mostly by romanticism, not confidence or elegant play, and the Germans ruthlessly exposed them.
Much of the world is left as confused as the Brazilian fans. The Selecao (“select few”), as locals call the Brazil team, were worshipped. They could lose, yes, but they always had what it took when it mattered. They played gracious and splendid football even when they failed to come out on top. Nothing resembling the Selecao of old was in evidence on Tuesday, when the Brazilian trademark of “beautiful football” was eviscerated by opponents who were scoring exceptional goals at will.
This wound will take time – lots of it – to heal. But when or if Brazil come back, they will find themselves in a new football landscape. An empire has fallen, and while that is disheartening to many, it can inspire numerous others. Croatia, who played really well against Brazil but fell victim to a controversial penalty, will be further encouraged. So will Mexico and other teams who matched Brazil blow for blow in this World Cup. Is it good for football? Sadly for Brazil, it is.
Sports analysts are still investigating how it happened. However, the truth is that telltale signs of decline had been there all along, but World Cup fever with a South American bias masked the reality. When the rose-tinted glasses were taken off, it was clear Brazil were never good enough to begin with. Or, to put a positive spin to it, other teams did a great job in elevating themselves to match the masters of “beautiful football”.
Defending champions Spain can now stop kicking themselves after their early exit. England may be feeling relieved they didn’t have to face the Germans at their best in this tournament. Italy, France and Uruguay may even be chuckling. The hubbub of headlines competing to represent this World Cup has given way to a chorus devoted to the hosts’ implosion. The feeling of humiliation will take a long time to subside. But Brazil and its football have a choice: take this “disaster” as a blessing in disguise and start anew, or accept it as the beginning of the end.