Jim White

Brazil gambled on World Cup glory – and lost it all

Jim White

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The most extraordinary thing about the most extraordinary night in Belo Horizonte was hearing the Brazilian fans at the end of the game issuing a series of oles to mark yet another sequence of German passes.

As the brilliant Khedira, Mueller, Schweinsteiger and Kroos toyed with the home team they were applauded to the skies by locals who know good football when they see it. And, to their immense disappointment, they were seeing it expressed with such facility not by their own players, but by the opposition.

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No one was expecting this. No one thought a joyous month-long carnival of colour and noise would end in such humiliation, such embarrassment, such disgrace for the home side. In Brazil the locals were aware that their line-up was not a vintage one, the current squad nothing to compare with the glorious custodians of the Brazilian tradition of the past. Any team which relies on Fred as its principal source of goals can hardly be expected to set the world alight. 1970 redux this was not.

But Brazilians had convinced themselves over the past month that a mixture of passion, desire, and collective hope would drive their limited team to success. For the organisers, selling the idea that Sunday could see the ultimate party for the host nation was imperative.

The £8 billion bill had produced precious little in the way of tangible economic benefit. The infrastructure projects planned to emerge around the tournament have never materialised. In Fortaleza in the north east, the half mile or so laid down of a city-wide metro system that was meant to be completed in time for the competition’s start, is quickly rotting in the tropical sun.

When first mooted, this was meant to be a tournament which showcased Brazil as a modern, thrusting, ready-to-do-business economy. In an interesting twist of logic, through hosting the world’s premier football competition was supposed to come opportunity to prove that this was a country that no longer simply defined itself through football.

When it became clear all it would deliver was a bunch of hugely expensive white elephant stadia (the one in Brasilia alone cost £600m and as yet there are no plans in place for future use), the focus changed. Now it was the sold as the chance to prove that Brazil is the best in the world at something. Winning the trophy, adding that sixth star to the crest on the national jersey became the sole imperative. Sure, it may have cost that money, was the insistence from those in charge, but hey, it will be worth it when we’re all dancing round Rio with the cup.

Thus did winning become everything. All that mattered. After attempting to re-position itself, this was a nation more dependent on the prestige of footballing excellence than ever. For the politicians who had staked so much on this project, victory was essential. If they couldn’t provide the bread, they had to make sure they offered the circus.

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And how woefully, painfully short the team fell of that elevated goal. From the very moment last night when David Luiz, the stand-in captain, bellowed out the national anthem holding aloft the shirt of his absent colleague Neymar, everything that could go wrong did. Hoping to unleash a riptide of emotion that would wash the Germans aside, all that collective singing did was dim the focus.

Luiz in particular looked a man who had completely misplaced his tactical nous. Overwhelmed by the occasion he provided all the resistance of a damp paper bag to the free-flowing Germans. And his lead was picked up across a team poorly selected and poorly managed by Luiz Felipe Scolari.

Every player in yellow appeared fugged by emotion. Fernandinho, whose snappy interventions had bruised Chile and Colombia, seemed incapable of providing a tackle. Luis Gustavo was equally absent, Dante about as much use as a papier mache crash helmet, Oscar and Hulk simply abject. If it were possible, Fred looked even worse than we imagined him to be. And that was very bad indeed.

Playing like that against a German side of fluency, pace and tactical flexibility, the very epitome of the modern game, was a disastrous piece of timing. Suddenly all the frailties of the team which had been papered over in the unconvincing stagger to the semi-final emerged at once.

In the absence of their creative inspiration Neymar and tactical anchor Thiago Silva they were horribly exposed. In that 10-minute spell when Germany scored four times in the first half it looked like a bunch of clowns from the nearby circus had somehow inveigled their way on to the pitch, dressed in yellow shirts. It was that embarrassing.

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“Rabbits 1 Herrs 7” was the headline in The Sun this morning, perfectly capturing in a single phrase the yawning chasm between the two sides. A chasm which Scolari had neither the personnel nor the tactics at his disposal to bridge.

And how the crowd, initially so spurred by patriotic fervour, noted it. These players had not only let them down, they had shamed the tradition on which the nation was reared. “F*** you Fred,” they chanted as the team in yellow so conspicuously betrayed them. And “f*** you Oscar”. Not to forget, adding a political dimension, a somewhat direct message to the country’s President Rousseff: “f*** you Dilma.”

They then turned their attention to the team out on the Belo Horizonte pitch which was playing the game as they wished to see it played. How they wished those boys were playing in yellow shirts. In every “ole” that greeted every German pass, you could hear the anguish.

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