World Cup 2014: How Brazil is doubly the loser of the £7bn contest that left out slum-dwellers
As the nation comes to terms with its humiliating semi-final defeat by Germany, the anger could be hard to contain
In the morning, strong coffee was drunk from the same tiny cups as it had been the day before, and traffic once again snarled the streets that for a few hours on Tuesday evening were deserted.
A country susceptible to melodramas of its own making has suffered an earthquake. It is only football, yes, but this tournament which was always about so much more than football. A President who seeks re-election in October had been forced to all but stake her future on it. For much of the country, each of Brazil’s 11 players carried on their shoulders $1bn of government waste.
The front page headlines were predictable. Humiliation and disaster were a consistent theme. One warned readers: “Are you sure you want to remember? Then turn the page.” Another called it “The worst humiliation in history”.
The sports newspaper Lance simply left its front page blank and invited readers to write their own disaster headlines on it, albeit with some handy hints at the bottom – outrage, anger, pain, frustration, irritation, shame and pity.
A gleeful clapping Angela Merkel cast in concrete on top of Christ the Redeemer’s plinth above Rio de Janeiro was one of countless jokes that flew round Twitter and Facebook so fast that Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff went to social media to begin the impossible job of damage limitation.
“Perdemos a taça, mas a Copa das Copas é nossa,” appeared on the President’s Facebook page, above an image of a Brazilian flag waving inside a joy-filled stadium. “We have lost the trophy, but the Cup of Cups is ours.”
The Cup of Cups was the name Brazil gave to this tournament – a Word Cup in what many feel to be the home of football, though perhaps not for much longer.
In the build-up to this controversial World Cup, where at least £7bn of public money was spent building more stadiums than had ever been built by a previous host – killing eight construction workers in the process – in a country defined by its inequality, the protests were violent, and the narrative went that only Brazilian victory could save the country from its own anger.
On Tuesday night, fights broke out in the stadium long before half time, buses were burnt on the streets of Sao Paulo, fans fled Rio’s Copacabana beach amid fears of an outbreak of mass robbery. In the city’s Flamengo Park, where tourists don’t generally go, a bus robbery ended with police shooting a man dead.
Now that the team will not win, and with a general election looming, the President must switch the focus on to the country’s successful hosting of the tournament, which certainly has run more smoothly than had been predicted.
But even so, last week, two miles from where Tuesday night’s match took place, two people were killed when an overpass that was supposed to be finished collapsed on a road. Then on Monday, Alfredo di Stefano, unquestionably among a tiny handful of true legends of the game, died at the age of 88. Yet before Tuesday’s match, the only tribute made was an indulgent, saccharine one by the Brazilian team to their injured 22-year-old striker, Neymar Junior. That Di Stefano was to be honoured at the match between the Netherlands and Argentina confirms a mistake was made.
An emotional David Luiz walks off the pitch following his team's, and his nation's, humiliation (Getty)
If the widespread protests that had been feared now begin in earnest, a wider world that might have been sympathetic when the tournament started will not be so now. Nobody likes a bad loser.
London’s Olympic venues that it doesn’t really need – a velodrome, a grand swimming pool – will at least always stand as testament to a magical summer, made magical primarily through sporting triumph. And for the most part, the streets around them aren’t littered with homeless families, and there are no mountainsides rising above them, sprawling with dilapidated makeshift homes.
Here the promised infrastructure projects, some half-finished, some not even started, will only recall the tear-strewn players who heaped more pressure upon themselves than they knew how to handle.
“In Sao Paulo, in Fortaleza, why will we want to ride the metro of shame?” said Alex Ovron, a waiter who lives in the poorer part of Salvador.
“In England, you have other things – cricket, rugby. You are winning the Tour de France, the Olympic Games. Here, we just have football. It is everything.”
When Brazil last hosted the World Cup in 1950, they lost the final match at Rio’s Maracana and Uruguay won an unlikely trophy. That match is known as the Maracanazo – the disaster of the Maracana. Tuesday’s match has already become known as the Mineiraozo – the disaster of the Estadio Mineirao.
A Brazil supporter looks on in horror as she watches her side exit the World Cup in emphatic fashion (AP)
But the whole tournament too, can now be seen as a new Maracanazo, the disaster being that in a Brazilian World Cup, Brazil never made it to the Maracana, arguably football’s most hallowed amphitheatre. Placating national anger was no small factor in the decision to spread the host nation’s matches all around the country, from Fortaleza in the baking north, to Tuesday night’s match in cool, rainy Belo Horizonte. To grace the Maracana, Brazil had to make the final. They have not.
And their humiliation may not be over yet. Their neighbours and bitter rivals Argentina may yet make football history in their home, with Lionel Messi in many people’s eyes taking the honour of the world’s greatest-ever footballer from Brazil’s Pele by lifting the trophy there on Sunday.
Or they may yet have to play and lose to Argentina in the third place play off on Saturday. Brazil’s wounds are gaping open. There are no shortage of agonising permutations to come.
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