If the World Cup final is the game no one wants to lose, the third-place play-off is normally the game no one wants to play.
On this occasion, though, one of the coaches might just have been glad of the opportunity.
Like being handed a Twix after a tornado, it would not have provided too much comfort to most.
Brazil fans were left stunned by the Mineiraço, the days since blurring together in a state of disbelief. But for Scolari, the old war horse, it was a chance to shift the landscape, even if just a touch.
He had spent the days since the Germany game speaking of a mental “blackout” on the pitch – a six-minute spell during which he “could have done nothing” to prevent the Seleção conceding four times.
While he explicitly assumed responsibility for the loss, there was a hint of buck-passing here: if not onto the players then at least onto some higher power who had seen fit to curse his side in this manner. Such ideas hold some sway in superstitious, God-fearing Brazil.
Video had even been leaked of Scolari talking to Thiago Silva and members of his back-room team after the match, claiming that his side could easily have made it 5-4 in the minutes following half-time. It was utter drivel, of course, but he truly seemed to believe it.
If he could secure victory against the Netherlands – a side with international standing to compare to that of Germany – it would be easier to mark the meltdown in Belo Horizonte down as a one-off, a freak result.
Five wins, a draw and a defeat: there have been worse World Cup records.
The Oranje, though, were in no mood to tango.
They sliced through the Brazil defence with almost as much ease as Germany had, taking the lead within two minutes and cruising to a 3-0 win.
Scolari’s paper-thin safety net did not hold. His post-match proclamations were no less bullish than after the Germany match (“I don’t see how I can criticise my team… this will go down as a generation that finished in the top four in the world”) but on this occasion were uttered with a degree of resignation.
Even by Felipão’s own metric, this constituted the final blow, the jab after the uppercut of the 7-1.
There were errors even before the semi-final. In his paternal commitment to his favoured players, he failed to recognise that this was a young, emotionally fragile squad, with precious little experience of dealing with pressure.
While Neymar shouldered responsibility with a smile, the faces of Oscar, Bernard, Paulinho and others often spoke of a nervous, burdened squad. In hindsight, someone like Kaká would have been the ideal mentor to this emerging generation.
Tactically, too, Scolari was unable to replicate the suffocating, vibrant pressing that served Brazil so well in the Confederations Cup. When momentum proved hard to come by, there was no control, no dynamism in midfield. David Luiz was left punting long balls to the flanks, which just about worked in the early rounds but looked horribly crude against Germany and the Netherlands.
For all the credit Scolari has in the back (2002 and all that), no manager can hope to cling to his job after overseeing a country’s worst-ever World Cup defeat, in a semi-final, on home soil. There can be no real excuses, no circumstances under which that is acceptable.
Scolari did not hand in his notice, either after the Germany game or, as expected, after the play-off.
“The CBF president has to decide my future,” he said. “He has the quality to analyse things and do the right thing.”
The problem here is that he doesn’t.
José Maria Marin, whose past indiscretions range from stealing a medal from a youth-team tournament to supporting a military dictatorship, has shown very little of the foresight needed to shape a country’s football success.
You would not put it past him to hand Scolari a new contract.
This, really, is the problem for the Seleção at this juncture. You can blame the players and coach all you like, but they merely have the misfortune of finding themselves as the visible representatives of Brazil’s corrupt, inept sporting authorities.
Under Marin – and Ricardo Teixeira and João Havelange before him – Brazil’s footballing patrimony has been yanked out from under the country’s feet, sold to Nike, traded for favours and allowed to decay.
Only with planning, investment and transparency will change take place. It will be a slow process and should have started years, even decades ago. But that is what is required if Brazil are to get back where they think they belong.
Jack Lang has been covering all things Brazil at the World Cup for Eurosport.
- Sports & Recreation
- Luiz Felipe Scolari