THIS Brazilian World Cup campaign has been successful in one sense. Luiz Felipao Scolari’s team set out with the mission to expunge the memory of the ‘Maracanazo’, and now that has been achieved, no question.
But never in their wildest dreams could they have imagined it would be by trumping the catastrophe that has haunted the nation’s psyche for over 60 years.
Consider your own time spent supporting your club team and count how many times you have been seen them lose by six goals, or even win by such a margin. Not very often. That’s because such scorelines do not happen very often, and almost never in the latter stages of a World Cup. Not to the host nation. And never, ever to Brazil.
Many Tartan Army fans can still feel the sting of Scotland’s defeat by the same six-goal margin to the Netherlands at the Euro 2004 play-off in 2003. Following a 1-0 win in the first leg, these fans travelled to Amsterdam with optimism, although this wasn’t on the scale felt by the Brazilians. There wasn’t the same desperate need for success. There wasn’t anything like the same sense of entitlement.
If defeat in the Amsterdam Arena hurt, and of course it did, imagine how it felt to be Brazilian. To lose 7-1 in their own backyard, with the eyes of the world upon them.
Scotland once lost 7-0 to Uruguay and at a World Cup as well, in 1954, but they had not been expected to win the trophy, and were, according to reports, a poorly prepared rabble. There was also no internet over which delight at their humiliation could quickly spread to all four corners of the globe. Amusing gifs of the Scott Monument rocketing off its plinth on Princes Street did not spread across something called Twitter in the style of ‘I’m Christ the Redeemer, get me out of here’ mock-ups.
In Brazil yesterday, there was a sense of disbelief on the streets. It felt poignant to be able to relive something of the atmosphere that settled over the country following the aforementioned ‘Maracanazo’, when Brazil lost the World Cup final to Uruguay in 1950, on the last occasion they were hosts. Scapegoats were quickly identified on that occasion too. Goalkeeper Mocair Barbosa was never allowed to forget being wrong-footed for the winner. You fear now for Fred, booed mercilessly following another poor performance on Tuesday.
Observers have long spoken about their fears for when and if Brazil were eliminated from the competition and what problems such a scenario might pose for civil order. So perhaps the sheer mind-numbing scale of the defeat helped. People appeared too dazed to consider anything overly drastic, although there were reports of looting on the streets of Sao Paulo hours after the defeat to Germany. In the same city yesterday, a sense of calm had returned. Indeed, it felt eerie to be in one of the five biggest conurbations in the world and experience such quiet. There was another reason for this: yesterday felt like a Sunday because it was Constitutionalist Revolution Day, which is a holiday to mark the uprising in the state of Sao Paulo in 1932 against the coup d’etat staged two years earlier by Getulio Vargas to become president.
Revolution was not yet in the air yesterday. Instead, many were still carrying out what one newspaper described as the “autopsia”. The player ratings said all you needed to know about the change in mood towards the team; it has gone from devotional to disgust.
Diario De S. Paulo handed every one in the Brazil team double zeros. Even the financial newspaper Economico Valor led with the story of the night before. In one café in the Paulista area of the city, Ulysses Moreira Formiga was still trying to unscramble his thoughts. “It felt surreal,” he said. “One goal after the other – you could not even tell if it was a replay or not.”
Scolari had tried his best to fathom what happened. It wasn’t hard to sympathise with the man whose stock in the country plummeted in the course of just 29 minutes and five quickly plundered first-half goals. He has accepted responsibility and so he must. Not for the tactics necessarily, although Brazil did seem to be set-up in a naively offensive formation, with Bernard, Neymar’s replacement, looking particularly ill-equipped to cope with the burden of replacing someone who has been consecrated to such a ridiculous extent. No, he must bear culpability for allowing and indeed, for participating in, this mawkish saluting of Neymar, whose absence was made to seem like a national tragedy as opposed to the sporting conundrum it really was. The feeling was allowed to permeate that he was irreplaceable with even Scolari wore a baseball cap bearing the message “forca Neymar”.
It is also difficult to believe that the manager permitted Julio Cesar and David Luiz to hold up Neymar’s jersey as the national anthem played before kick-off. When Brazil required cool-eyed professionalism they were hamstrung by this cloying sentiment. Can you imagine Sir Alex Ferguson allowing Manchester United to carry out Roy Keane’s shirt before the Champions League final in 1999?
Since she had been the one to mention ‘Maracanazo’ to me while sitting next to her on the plane to Rio at the start of last month, I contacted Denise Barata, a professor at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, yesterday, to gauge the mood in the city where the party atmosphere has been most fevered during the tournament. “A friend told me the metro driver was so confused that he announced the names of the stations wrong,” she reported. “It was as if he was not there. I think that is how I feel: I don’t know in what station I am. I’m confused. On the street, it feels like a sci-fi film. Absolute silence. When I heard a laugh, I didn’t understand. Why is someone laughing?
“You know, British people invented football, but it was stolen by us,” she added. “Football is very important for us.” Brazil swept into this tournament on a wave of emotion. They were swept out on one as well. Now, there is only numbness.