The response to Brazil's defeat has been a surreal exploration of loss and tragedy

Football can be devastatingly cruel, but in reality it means almost nothing


You have probably seen the pictures of Brazilians crying by now. From Tuesday night, the nation has been in mourning. But in retrospect, the mourning started well before the first of Germany's seven goals.

The Brazilian team came out onto the pitch with a Neymar, Jr jersey, and held it in stirring tribute. Neymar was absent, and his absence provoked grief. So this was the scene: a national team already grieving for a 22-year-old with a dodgy haircut and a broken vertebrae. Making a show of its grief. Unwittingly preparing for more.

I have a German friend. She texted me during the game. "I feel guilty. Because of the crying Brazilians." Germany hadn't even got to seven yet.

One of the peculiarities of sports is that playing well is really cruel. Matches are at their best when they are well-balanced. Blowouts in football are rare and when they come no one really seems to know how to react, emotionally. The players don't weep like they do after near defeats, and don't celebrate like they do after last-gasp, stoppage time winners. When the game isn't competitive, it's hard to stay that emotionally invested in it.

Fans don't know how to react either. It's hard to cheer for humiliation. But sport isn't set up to inspire pity. It's a bloodbath. It's tribal. You bray for your team and you jeer the opposition. But insults don't hurt like the fifth and sixth and seventh goals do.

In the stadium, it took the fans until half time to realise they should be booing. Then they chanted "Fred, take it up the ass." You're meant to chant that about the other team.

In bars across Brazil, confusion turned, darkly, to laughter. German passes were greeted with olés, German goals with cheers. Brazilians set off fireworks when Germany scored, because they'd bought them anyway, and wanted to set them off.

A Brazilian man with a fake World Cup trophy and a spectacular moustache was pictured looking desolate. He later handed his trophy to some German fans. "You deserve this now."

The man became a meme. The internet was awash with pictures of him and other grieving Brazilians. Rio's Christ the Redeemer was photoshopped into a celebrating Angela Merkel. A Vine of a Brazillian cocktail being smashed by a German beer stein went viral. The match was the most tweeted about thing on Twitter ever. Everyone had a joke to tell.

There is an element of gloating to this. People wanted Brazil to lose. They had been petulant and lucky and dirty and self-righteous, a school bully getting help from the headmaster to flush the smaller kids' heads in the toilet. And those smaller kids were so beautiful: aggressive, socialist Chile; celebratory Colombia. Perhaps this explains the jokes. Kick 'em while they're down.

The jokes are more though. Sport doesn't create a framework for processing humiliation. There is a void. There is a sense that, somehow, what happened needs to be explained. This much is clear from the Brazilian media, desperate for an explanation.

The jokes all focus on Brazil, not on Germany. It is Brazil's grief that can be laughed away. Without laughter, it hurts. With laughter, it can be endured.

There was one Brazilian man in the bar I watched the match in. When Oscar scored Brazil's goal, right at the death, he stood up and roared and the whole bar applauded him and laughed with him.

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