Sunday 15 December 2019

Plenty of scapegoats in humiliation that marks death of Brazilian game as we know it

Marcelo holds his head in his hands after the Germans score another goal to pile the pain on for Brazil in the World Cup semi-final. Photo: Martin Rose/Getty Images
Marcelo holds his head in his hands after the Germans score another goal to pile the pain on for Brazil in the World Cup semi-final. Photo: Martin Rose/Getty Images
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

It started with bizarre tributes to an injured player that resembled a memorial service and developed into a turbulent funeral. This was the death of Brazilian football as we know it.

July 8 is a date they will never be able to forget.

Journalism encourages a search for precedents in response to a historical event, but there is no appropriate comparison for the symbolic meaning of this humiliation on home soil for the Seleção. Brazil have won the World Cup more times than any other nation, yet it's inevitable that this night will be the reference point for anything that happens in their future.

The pain of 1950, the last time they hosted this tournament, never left the players who lost the deciding game to Uruguay. Luiz Felipe Scolari's class of 2014 were set with the mission of banishing the ghosts of the 'Maracanazo', and will instead carry an even more crushing defeat to the grave.

That infamous post-war reverse is remembered for the deathly silence that scarred the psyche of a nation that believed it was ready to announce itself on the world stage. Last night, the emotions veered closer to anger.

Dilma Rousseff, the president, was the subject of abusive chants which will bring the costly staging of this event right back to the top of the agenda. Fred was jeered throughout the second half. All the signs point to a vicious post-mortem, with predictable reports circulating of armed police mobilising around the country.

There will be no shortage of scapegoats in the fall-out. One is a Colombian. Juan Zuniga has received racist death threats since the challenge on Neymar last Friday that ruled Brazil's star man out of this semi-final. His face was everywhere.

One tabloid, 'Meia Hora', splashed with the headline 'We are all Neymar' above photoshopped pictures of Scolari and the Brazil team with the stricken striker's distinctive barnet placed on top of their heads. Brazil's players entered the stadium wearing caps bearing his name and skipper David Luiz and goalkeeper Julio Cesar held up his shirt during an emotional rendition of the national anthem.

In reality, the distraction has merely only served to mask the inadequacies of the squad left behind, a weakness which was cruelly exposed by Germany.

Joachim Loew's men arrived at the stadium with a job to do, with the contrasting dressing-room moods reflected by local television coverage.

The Brazilian bus arrived at the Mineirao with players and staff, including Scolari, singing, dancing and banging on the windows. Cameras then switched to Germany's entrance with the pristinely dressed Loew and assistant Hansi Flick, both wearing a smart shirt and trousers, marching down the tunnel with similar purpose to officials from the revenue arriving for an audit.

Minutes after Luiz sprinted out for his warm-up, combining last-minute prayer with rallying cries for the crowd, Loew sauntered to the sideline to sip on an espresso while his team went through their paces, preparing to break 200 million hearts. His group have been accused of lacking bottle, but they were the cool and calculated characters in this match-up. Granted, they have superior footballers to the rabble they swatted aside, but composure was equally as potent a weapon.

Scolari's charges were fuelled by emotion and little else, kicking off this match with a maniacal brand of spirit. Everything was happening quickly, much too quickly, with yellow shirts caught in the same frenzy that was gripping the stadium. Aimless punts forward were greeted like shots on goal. When Marcelo atoned for an error with a diving challenge for the corner that led to Thomas Mueller's opener, the crowd behind Cesar's goal jumped to their feet celebrating his endeavour. The episode was a snapshot of this group's problems.

Blind optimism lingered until Miroslav Klose cemented his place in the record books in the 23rd minute. What followed was a surreal six-minute period where the flimsy foundations of this Brazil side crumbled. In the stands, the supporters didn't know what to do. Some streamed for the exits, others cried, a minority tossed plastic cups or whatever FIFA branded merchandise they could find.

It's worth remembering that the capacity crowd in Belo Horizonte, like the other Brazil matches in this tournament, only represent a small section of this team's followers. Tickets have largely fallen into the hands of wealthier members of society, 'day-trippers' as one local commentator put it. The real pain will be felt amongst the people watching in bars and restaurants up and down the land who couldn't afford to get near any fixture. By extension it will fuel the disgust of those who filled the streets for a different reason.

So, there was no danger of anarchy within the stadium, save for a few scuffles in sections where Germany supporters were celebrating. When Andre Schurrle lashed in a seventh goal for the victorious Europeans, the stadium was uplifted by ripples of applause.

In Brazil, they appreciate good football. They yearn for the days when it used to be their trademark.

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: John Cooney on Ulster's European run and bouncing back from World Cup disappointment

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport