Inside Brazil, the reaction was that predictable mix of disappointment and incipient rage.
Almost every newspaper headline in a country with plenty of them ran a headline riff on the words Humilhacao (Humiliation) or Vexame (Disaster).
The Metro chain led with the most atmospheric front page – a darkened Estadio Mineirao with only the accusatory final tally lit up on a distant scoreboard.
A very few were trying to look on the bright side of soccer life.
“We’ll get the sixth title in Russia,” Pele Tweeted. Well, anything’s possible. But some things are less possible than others.
This country continues to produce top young talent, but very little of it featured here. Brazil was the sixth oldest squad at this World Cup (while Germany was the sixth youngest).
Amongst the current starting XI, the only locks to make the roster at World Cup 2018 are Neymar and Oscar. You don’t win World Cups with a team full of guys who’ve never been there before. This isn’t getting better in four years time since, by their own standards, nothing short of a championship is good enough for Brazil. Realistically, their next shot at that will come at Qatar 2022.
When you’re trying to imagine how hard this will be to explain to Brazilians, imagine Canadians being told, ‘You’ll have to wait eight years to be the best at hockey again.’ Then imagine the bulk run on pitchforks.
That’s Brazil’s end of it. Since they’re not going to suddenly become intrigued with the possibilities of handball, they’ll struggle out of it.
What’s more intriguing is the damage this has done to Brazil’s worldwide brand.
If all it took to win hearts was titles, everyone would love Germany. Even Germans are frequently iffy on Germany.
What Brazil projected for more than half a century was something more fetching than victory – it was glamour. No country has ever produced so many romantic figures and footballing rogues.
Take, for instance, Socrates, the man who fairly invented the slow-moving, quick-thinking midfield general, and the fulcrum of those heroically failed teams of the ‘80s.
He was a leftist philosopher, a qualified doctor, a newspaper columnist, a chain smoker, a high-functioning alcoholic and the guy who helped bring down the junta. In between, he found time for soccer, and was better at it than just about anyone in the history of the game.
“There’s more to life than football,” he once said. And better yet, proved. Some very good soccer-playing countries have produced one or two players who capture your imagination. Brazil gave birth to dozens of them.
If the sum of it parts was often greater than the whole, it rarely overwhelmed it. Brazil’s best teams were always a collection of individualists sublimated to a single goal. They were – to borrow a phrase from Barcelona and use it in a more fitting context – mes que un club (More than a club). That ended here, and who knows for how long.
The Guardian captured that feeling in this morning’s obits: “One of the striking things about this World Cup is the extent to which Brazil have gone from being everyone’s second favourite team to hardly anyone’s.”
There were several factors that weighed in to that hasty peeling away.
First and foremost, in a tournament stacked with electrifying sides, they were dreary and dull. Occasionally – as against Colombia – they were brutal. There was nothing uplifting or admirable about the style of this Brazil team. When they weren’t chopping down their opponents, they were rolling around on the ground feigning injury. How much of the viewing public thought Neymar was really injured until they carried him down the tunnel on a stretcher? I’d wager none.
Once that happened, they became depressingly maudlin. It’s not clear why their manager Luiz Felipe Scolari allowed the team to react to Neymar’s absence like it was a death rather than a spell on the disabled list.
Looking back on it, the semi-final was won as the teams got off their buses. Brazil slunk in looking desperate, all wearing their ‘#ForcaNeymar’ ballcaps like the world’s most downtrodden scout troop.
Germany fairly floated after them, laughing easily. One side was getting ready to play. The other one was already imagining how it would feel to lose.
Scolari would say afterward that he saw his team “cracking up” after the first goal. From this vantage, that was happening long before the whistle.
Beyond Neymar, none of these players inspired. For those who take their cues on the world’s best from watching the Champions League (i.e. everyone), this was a stunningly unimpressive group. Against Germany, Brazil fielded three forwards who play for Zenit St. Petersburg, Shakhtar Donetsk and Fluminese. When we think of Brazil, we think of their striking prowess. That lack of quality (perhaps unfairly) lent the entire group an also-ran feeling.
Most importantly, while defeat can be romantic as well, there is nothing fetching about a 7-1 loss. No one sings songs about the time the hero got his ass absolutely handed to him.
Since so many of Brazil’s non-Brazilian fans were casual to begin with, they can casually wander over to a more attractive, more hopeful side. By this morning, most will have emigrated to the Dutch. They play the sort of football we once associated with Brazil.
Within this country, and after some lengthy period of garment rending, the legend of Brazil will resurface. That’s a function of faith.
But outside, in the hearts of so many who only swung by to bask in the pomp every four years, it may never recover.