By Andrew Warshaw
July 9 – In this most extraordinary and unpredictable of World Cups, nothing even came close to the humiliation of brutal proportions that unfolded in Belo Horizonte. Anyone who has watched Brazil during the tournament knows that the squad, for all the expectations, was full of deficiencies, a far cry from the great Brazilian teams of the past.
Losing their best two players before Tuesday’s semi-final only compounded limitations but it was hoped such setbacks might work in their favour thanks to the kind of fanatical support that had steered Felipe Scolari’s squad to within one match of Sunday’s showpiece finale.
Instead, an entire country is now in collective shock after footballing carnage on an unprecedented, almost surreal scale: a ghastly fascination that represents the greatest disaster in the 84-year history of the tournament. Nothing less.
That Germany’s Miroslav Klose, at 36, became the competition’s all-time record scorer with his 16th goal, was a magnificent achievement. But it inevitably played second fiddle to the sight of Brazil’s shell-shocked players, many of whom, like their coach himself, may never recover from such a catastrophic nightmare.
In one sense, it was so cruel on Brazil. Throughout my three-week stay in the country covering the tournament, the hospitality and generosity was second to none, the sheer exuberance of the yellow-clad masses infectious. But in truth on a footballing level, the team had never really impressed, sneaking through a series of matches with a mixture of good fortune, deafening roller-coaster home support and, of course, that man Neymar.
But against a German team high on confidence, efficiency and clinical finishing, Brazil were ruthlessly ‘found out’, none more so than stand-in skipper David Luiz and, up front, the woefully inadequate Fred who ended up being jeered by his own public.
It was embarrassing to watch, let alone play in. For over half a century, the architects of the beautiful game had sought to erase the memory of the darkest day in their history, the 1950 final at the old Maracana, won 2-1 by Uruguay against hosts who had seemed certain to be crowned champions.
This was supposed to have been their time with the tournament back on home soil. Instead, Brazilian football has a new darkest day, their greatest shame on record and one that may never be worsened. It was, don’t forget, their first competitive home defeat for 39 years but it was the sheer scale and the manner of it – and of course the occasion – that will forever be remembered.
Where Brazil go from here is anyone’s guess. In his post-match news conference Scolari, who famously won the trophy back in 2002, was at pains to take the blame for “the worst day of my life” after his second spell in charge. But the mood of utter disbelief and anguish will not disappear quickly. In the first instance, of course, the players go to Brasilia on Saturday for the third place play-off, cruelly dubbed the ‘losers’ final.’
After that, who knows?
Of immediate concern is what might happen on the streets. Since the start of the tournament, football has taken pride of place, the festering resentment at the cost of staging the World Cup pushed to one side in favour of the national team’s hopes and dreams.
With those shattered, Brazilian news organizations reported rising tension in some cities, including fighting in Rio de Janeiro, arson attacks on two buses in São Paulo, and a wave of unrest in Salvador. Whether that was a kneejerk reaction, a potent mix of grief and anger after such a dishonourable exit, remains to be seen.
With the recent flyover disaster in Belo Horizonte still fresh in many Brazilians’ minds, the danger now is a return to large-scale demonstrations by fans protesting against the authorities for prioritising an expensive World Cup legacy in terms of transport and infrastructure projects over much-needed public facilities like hopsitals and schools.
It was not supposed to have been this way …
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