World Cup 2014: Brazil wakes up to cold reality of calamity

The party is over for Brazil

sao paulo

The Argentina fans making their way down the concrete walkways to the Arena Corinthians before last night’s match had already bought their first souvenirs of the monumental Brazil collapse to Germany in the semi-final the previous evening. On newly printed flags fluttering from cars or tied around shoulders was the laughing face of Diego Maradona and the message “Adios Brasilenos”.

The party is over for Brazil. They still have the final at the Maracana on Sunday night, the most prestigious football match in the world in the most evocative stadium in the sport. But as far as the host nation is concerned, the cast-list will be all wrong. This mediocre Brazil team that they have willed on through the tournament with a mixture of blind faith and fervent prayer had not just been found out, they had been eviscerated in front of their eyes.

The 7-1 defeat to Germany was one of those rare football occasions when one feels that the usual rules have been suspended. There were times in that six-minute spell in the first half when Germany scored four goals that anything seemed possible. Ten? 15? A riot? A pitch invasion? A military intervention? The crowd were slow to react. The white, middle-class supporters who can afford to watch their national team were in shock. Barely 20 minutes earlier they had roared their national anthem and all of a sudden they felt obliged to boo.

Video: Brazilians react to humiliating loss

This collapse felt symbolic of the tournament as a whole. Brazil has staged this World Cup on a wing and a prayer. Stadiums delivered late and a heavy toll of deaths in their construction. A fragile peace with the activists who organised the mass protests against the government earlier in the year. An enormous, expensive military presence to ensure the safety of visitors. Superficially pacified favelas. Even a collapsed motorway flyover in Belo Horizonte, that killed two people just days before Brazil’s semi-final there.

This has been the tournament that has been delivered on the hop. There are even greater worries about the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in two years’ time. The Brazilian way is to muddle through and have faith. The destruction of their team was representative of a wider malaise that beneath the surface all is not well.

For Luiz Felipe Scolari, a World Cup winner in 2002, life should have promised nothing but the good things that are due the elder statesman of Brazilian football. A place on one of the sofas of the country’s evening TV football discussion shows and an easy retirement among the wealthy seniors of middle-class Brazil who take a morning constitutional along the beach.

Yet yesterday at a press conference in Teresopolis, Scolari was hanging on grimly, refusing to resign – at least before Saturday’s third-place play-off in Brasilia. It is hardly the way he will have envisaged the end, even if he always thought winning the tournament would be tough. A tearful David Luiz leaves the field A tearful David Luiz leaves the field

Post-match, Scolari carried his burden with as much dignity and quiet fortitude as he could muster. He was mildly deluded about the game itself, attempting to characterise the scale of the defeat as some kind of aberration largely unrelated to his team’s performance. But on the bigger picture, on responsibility, on the wounding to the national pride, he struck the right tone.

Brazil are just not very good. In a tournament that has, until Germany’s semi-final performance, lacked a stand-out team, the hosts have been able to harness the enthusiasm of the squad and passion of the support to propel them into the last four. Even so, they needed penalties to beat Chile in the last 16 and a brutally reductive approach to kicking Colombia in the quarter-finals.

In the aftermath of the semi-final, it was as if the players dared not rationalise what had happened, preferring instead to describe it as an event that had taken place beyond their control, the work of a vengeful god. “Unbelievable,” Fernandinho said. “Incredible things happened. We can try to explain for the rest of our lives, but we cannot find the words to explain this situation. I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life. ”

Dani Alves went on the attack. “I know a lot of life’s losers and arseholes will make fun,” he posted on Instagram. “But I would like to say publicly that I am privileged to be part of this group – you are the best, you are champions, you are what all the arseholes will never be, because you have excelled and succeeded in life.” Needless to say, that is not the prevailing mood in the country.

Viewed as a whole, Brazil’s weaknesses are obvious. The injured Neymar is a fine player but in better Brazil teams he would not have to shoulder all the creative burden. They have a collection of mediocre, interchangeable midfielders – Luis Gustavo, Paulinho, Fernandinho, Ramires – who offer them nothing different in style or quality. The less said about the lamentable Fred and Jo the better. Bernard, preferred to Willian in place of Neymar, does not get in the Shakhtar Donetsk team every week.

Brazil’s goalkeeper Julio Cesar, although not one of the key culprits in Tuesday’s defeats, spent most of last season sitting out a lucrative contract at Queen’s Park Rangers before going to play in the MLS with Toronto. All in all, hardly the ideal preparation to be the No 1 goalkeeper for Brazil in a home World Cup. He eventually kept his place because of a lack of competition. When Cesar burst into tears before the penalty shoot-out against Chile it was hard to imagine Germany’s Manuel Neuer doing the same.

Throughout that Brazil team one could spot flaws. There was Maicon at right-back, a player for whom the best years are in his scrapbook and who could not cut it in the Premier League. David Luiz lost Thomas Müller for the first goal and spent the rest of the game chasing his losses. Hulk was hooked at half-time, unable to offer any cutting edge against Philipp Lahm, a man of half the forward’s body mass. Really, it was a pitiful performance.

Winning the Confederations Cup last summer against a Spain team starting to show the cracks in its invincibility gave Brazil a false sense of hope. The morning after the night before it all looked rather hollow. The vast billboard endorsements for Samsung, Mastercard, Itau bank and Nike from which the stars of this Brazil team stare out have been deliciously undone by football’s unpredictable narrative. They are crying out for one of the country’s millions of industrious graffiti artists to offer an updated commentary on the national team.

It should not be this way. Scolari selects from the biggest and the deepest talent pool in the world. There are consistently more Brazilians than any other nationality in the Champions League group stages. If he chose to, the coach could watch potential players in any of the top leagues in Europe, not to mention his country’s own league.

Yet the group of players he selected felt, for the large part, a tired bunch long way past their best and incapable of raising their game.

On Tuesday night, Scolari predicted that the core of the squad, up to 15 players, would go on to play at the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia. Given what happened not an hour earlier, this was not what Brazil wanted to hear. This team needs fresh blood and just a few survivors from the horror of Belo Horizonte to remind the new boys what failure – spectacular failure – was like.

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