When tears spill like cascades, making a mess of so much green and canary yellow facepaint inside an angry and stunned stadium at Belo Horizonte, the obvious must be asked: Is it time for a futebol-mad place like Brazil to be less futebol-mad?
We in America have a way, for the most part, of separating sport from the wholeness of humanity. Certainly, it’s a thrill if your team wins a Super Bowl or you win a fat bet, but a devastating sports loss here doesn’t prompt the masses to weep like babies. Even when the U.S. lost its global grip on basketball in 2004 — the Olympic team stumbled in Athens amid too much immaturity, cruise-ship partying and letdowns from kids who’ve rarely been in the news since, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony — did anyone actually cry? The reaction was disgust, then a call to fix the problem, which USA Basketball did by hiring Jerry Colangelo to manage and appointing Mike Krzyzewski as coach and winning the next two gold medals.
In Brazil, they cried, the players and their faithful, sulking in silence as the carnival crashed at about the same time thunderstorms knocked out the world TV compounds in Rio de Janeiro. A national team that once crafted the spellbinding style known as “the beautiful game’’ couldn’t have produced an uglier, sicklier ending to the dream of winning the World Cup on home soil. For days, the Selecao had absorbed harsh criticism from international pundits for practicing physical tactics that bordered on thuggery, which left little sympathy for the rough mid-air tackle by Colombia’s Juan Camilo Zuniga that sent Neymar, the 22-year-old virtuoso, to the emergency room with a fractured vertebra. The local reaction was to damn the critics, but now, in the semifinal, as Brazil fell behind by one goal, two goals, three goals, four goals and then five, no one could say that FIFA and an envious soccer globe was picking on the host nation.
By losing 7-1 — the equivalent to losing an NFL playoff game 62-10 — the Brazilian team got the spanking it deserved. Never has a host team looked so disorganized, out of sorts, soft, fragile, lost. Clearly, Team Brazil quit after the second goal, which led to a disgraceful run of four Germany goals in about six minutes, eventually adding up to seven goals, the most allowed in a World Cup semifinal. This was Brazil’s first loss at home in a competitive match since 1975, a span of 63 games, and it carves a place in World Cup infamy among the most brutal losses of all time. Simply, a home side never has been embarrassed worse on the global stage. More simply, it was Brazil’s worst-ever defeat at the worst possible time.
And all I can think of is emotion, pressure, expectations, demands, billions of dollars spent on a World Cup that divided Brazil like a plague.
“It was the worst day of my life,” coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said. “But life goes on.”
Does it? Is he sure?
These weren’t mere stadiums throughout a country large enough to be a continent. These were insane asylums during the Brazil games, filled with people with feelings that went beyond pride. This was Mother, God, Religion, and when Neymar went down, followed by the jolt that captain Thiago Silva also wouldn’t play after committing a stupid foul against Colombia, the mood became defensive, desperate. It didn’t help that Brazil’s players were overly emotional, prompting shots from throwback Brazilian warriors, such as the old captain Carlos Alberto, that they weren’t tough enough. When Neymar was lost, they openly prayed for him, even though he’ll be back on the pitch in four or five months. A sports shrink was summoned for them last week.
They were vulnerable. Who knew they were this vulnerable?
The result: Police lights on street corners in Belo Horizonte, Rio, across the nation. Profane chants afterward at the country’s president, Dilma Rousseff. Concerns about riots, to the point German fans were told to stay in the stadium seats until they could be escorted out safely. Remember, many people were opposed to hosting this event. Amid pre-Cup concerns about crime, gang violence and transportation and logistical issues, Brazil has managed to pull off a relatively crisis-free event so far. There was the collapse of an overpass, built for the World Cup, that killed at least two people in Belo Horizonte, but resentment largely has subsided about government corruption and the massive amounts of money spent on the quadrennial spectacle. Why? Because the beloved Selecao were winning.
But now, with the most disastrous of outcomes on the field, people are asking if the entire exercise was worth it. Brazil spent billions on stadiums that will sit empty, and for the investment, the people had to absorb the meanest futebol indgnity.
“We wanted to make the people happy. We couldn’t. We apologize to all Brazilians,’’ said David Luiz (per an interpreter), among the players sobbing. “The people suffer so much in Brazil. I’m sorry. … The dream is over, in a way that the people didn’t want.’’
“It’s time to go home, hug our relatives and sons,’’ said goalie Julio Cesar, helpess against the barrage.
There will much discussion about Germany’s poise, precision and firepower in the days leading to the Cup final. For now, all discussion is focused on Brazil.
And whether the country will be standing at week’s end.