In the clear light of morning, 7 to 1 is no less ugly. But Brazilians have moved on from their initial sense of horror and shock at their national team’s staggering World Cup semifinal loss to Germany, to a sort of grim stock-taking.
Blame is being placed on the shoulders of José Maria Marin, president of the Brazilian Football Confederation, an organization widely seen as a corrupt fiefdom run by a football mafia to enrich themselves. Many of its senior officials had ties to the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil until 1985. Mr. Marin left the stadium on Tuesday night without speaking to anyone; much is being made of here of a comment he made to reporters before the Cup began, that “if Brazil loses, we will all go to hell.”
Members of Brazil’s Congress tried last year to begin an inquiry into the operations of the CBF, as it is known by its Portuguese acronym, but were pressured by government to suspend it so as not to interfere with the Cup. Now there is equally heavy pressure to launch it again. President Dilma Rousseff has expressed support for an organization of players who call themselves the “Common Sense Football Club” who have been lobbying for reform of the CBF for some time.
“I don’t see a small change,” Edino Nazareth Filho, who was a defender on the national teams in the 1978, 1982 and 1986 Brazilian World Cup squads, told the national newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo. “We need to change all the structure of Brazilian football.”
The CBF is being slammed for its failure to invest in developing the game, leaving small clubs to be run essentially as farms for players who can be sold off to third-string European squads as soon as they turn 18.
Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari inevitably comes in for blunt criticism today, and there is speculation about who will replace him. While he coached Brazil to its fifth Cup, consensus in the sports media is that he used outdated methods and rejected the advice of those who urged him to update his playbook.
Many commentators noted that after Germany lost the World Cup at home in 2006 (finishing third), its national football organization staged an overhaul of its program, invested in new players and hunted out corruption. Brazil, they write, must do the same – although already there is an air of futility about these suggestions, since the CBF rivals FIFA for its lack of transparency and its entrenched leadership.
Brazil’s press does not have many kind words for the players, who they felt were glib about the slaughter on the pitch. Only right back Daniel Alves gave a response that seemed to pass muster: “I've been saying this for a while now: We need to evolve,” he told O Globo. “Football is evolving around the whole world. Look at Costa Rica, Chile. We are the country of football, but we are not the owners of football.”
A small group of people who appeared to have been angry football fans burned about 30 public buses in Sao Paulo following the game, but that is the only incident that has been reported. (There had been widespread speculation that if Brazil were to do anything less than win the Cup, there would be heavy rioting across the country.)
Political analysts are saying that the damage to the government will be minimal. The government’s own spin on matters seems to be that while the selecao, as the national team is known, lost the game, the country still emerges victorious for having held a smoothly run and charming event. Minister of Tourism Vinicius Lages told the Rio newspaper O Globo: “The success of the World Cup here didn’t depend on the selecao. We were giants in hospitality, in caring about the tourists. The defeat on the pitch, even though it was absolute, should not affect our ability to recognize that, today, we are one of the best countries in the world.”
Much of the discussion features comparisons with 1950, the last time Brazil played host to the Cup, when its heavily favoured team famously lost at Rio’s Maracana stadium in the final to underdog Uruguay. That loss, which until Tuesday was still discussed here as it if it had just happened, has suddenly been redeemed – or at least eclipsed.
Brazil’s goalkeeper in 1950, Moacir Barbosa Nascimento, was vilified all his life; in a perhaps apocryphal story, he once overheard a mother in a shop tell her child, “That is the man who made all Brazil cry.” He died, impoverished, in 2000.
Today, his daughter Tereza Borba tells the Brazilian sports website Globo Esporte about her father: “I think his soul has been cleansed. He didn’t go through this shame.”
O Globo says “the defeat to Germany makes the tragedy of 1950 honourable.” In an op-ed article in the national newspaper Estadao, writer Antero Greco invoked a moment – one that every Brazilian learns about in infancy – when the Uruguayans scored their winning goal, and the massive crowd in the Maracana fell deathly silent. “1950 ends on the 8th of July of 2014 … The soul of the former goal keeper can finally rest in peace, as well as the souls of the 200,000 fans who fell silent.”
Figures released by ONS, the national electrical supplier, show that many Brazilians abandoned watching the game after the 30th minute of the first half, after the fifth German goal.
The Brazilian team is now awaiting Saturday with what players frankly describe as dread; they will play for third place, against the loser of today’s match between Argentina and the Netherlands. Either prospect is grim – of potentially losing to Argentina for third, or of seeing Argentina go all the way to the final, and win the Cup on Brazilian soil.
“For Brazil, third place is practically nothing,” said left back Marcelo Vieira da Silva Jr., clearly not relishing the idea of putting on his jersey one more time.
Striker Givanildo Vieira de Souza, better known as Hulk, was more sanguine. “It’s not what we wanted to play,” he said. “But we have to have strength. The world didn’t end.”
The one peppy note to be heard today comes from, of all people, Pele. “I always say football is full of surprises,” the football god said, offering congratulations for the team. Brazil, he predicted confidently, will win its sixth championship in Russia in 2018.