Brazil Moves From Sadness to Acceptance in Its World Cup Loss

Brazil and the World Cup
Brazilian fans react with sorrow as their team goes down in the World Cup semi-final FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

Yes, it was just about the worst defeat in World Cup history. But Brazilians are resilient

With sadness, self-reflection and gallows humor, Brazil was today coming to terms with its most humiliating sporting defeat, a 7-1 thrashing by Germany in the World Cup semi final.

“It was really bad. No one expected to lose by that much,” said Enio Monteiro, aged 55, who was having a sandwich at a bar in Rio de Janeiro the day after the game. “But it happened, and I’m not thinking about it any more. You’ve got to move on.”

As he spoke, a customer nearby was reading local daily O Globo, whose front page screamed: “Shame. Embarrassment. Humiliation.” And on the wall above, a TV screen was showing the lunchtime news. The two presenters were giggling as they read out the funniest social media posts from the game.

Brazil began the World Cup as overwhelming favourites to win the World Cup for a record sixth time, and for the first time as hosts. Yet this World Cup will now be remembered for the country’s historic hammering by the Germans: the first time Brazil have let in seven goals in an official game, the only time a team has conceded 5 goals in 29 minutes in all World Cups, and the worst defeat ever of a World Cup host.

“The dream of winning the sixth title at home has turned into a horrible nightmare,” wrote Globo columnist Renato Maurício Prado. “Who would have thought that in the Cup of Cups, Brazil would end up having the humiliation of humiliations?”

Brazilians were expecting the game against Germany to be difficult, especially since they were without their best player Neymar, out injured, and their captain Thiago Silva, missing a game for an accumulation of yellow cards. “But not even the most delirious pessimist would have predicted the result,” the Folha de S. Paulo said in an editorial.

Pundits here have been united in stating that in terms of national shame, Tuesday’s game now eclipses the conclusion of the 1950 World Cup. Brazil lost the title in a 2-1 defeat to Uruguay, which was watched by 200,000 people in Rio’s Maracanã stadium, still the largest audience ever present at a soccer game.

“The team who played on Tuesday in Belo Horizonte have rewritten our memories [of 1950] by taking part in the bleakest day in the national team’s glorious 100 year history,” wrote Antero Greco in the Estado de S. Paulo.

Since the 1930s soccer has been the greatest symbol of Brazilian identity and a good performance in World Cups is seen as crucial for the nation’s self esteem. Within minutes of the end of the game, President Dilma Rousseff—who is on the campaign trail for re-election later this year—spoke to the nation in four tweets: “Like all Brazilians, I am very, very sad by the defeat. I feel immensely sorry for all us. Fans and our players. But we wont let it break us. Brazil, ‘get up, shake off the dust and come out on top again’.”

The national team’s spectacular elimination comes in the closing stages of a tournament that had already created much anger in the Brazilian population for the amount of public money that it cost. A year ago two million people protested against the spending during the Confederations Cup, the World Cup warm-up event. “I think that the Brazilians have been at odds with the World Cup all along, and the defeat was a reflection of this to a certain extent,” said Norberto Schlanger, aged 49, a stationery distributor in Rio de Janeiro, who said he was cheering for Germany. “Not because my name is German but because I wanted the money to go to hospitals and schools.”

Fears that a defeat would lead to more protests or riots have so far proved unfounded, with only minor reports of scuffles in Rio and some buses were set alight in Curitiba and São Paulo on Tuesday night. In fact, Brazilians have been reacting with resignation and good humour to the result, possibly because it was so shocking. Even in the Mineirão stadium the Brazilian fans were shouting “olé” at the German team, a traditional chant you sing when your team is winning.

Many past Brazilian stars have been making their comments known via social media, TV interviews and newspaper columns. Tostão, who played alongside Pelé in the 1970 World Cup and is one of the most respected pundits, wrote in the Folha de S. Paulo: “It was a tragedy: sad, very sad, the biggest defeat in the history of the Brazilian national team. As a consolation, maybe it will serve to force big changes in Brazilian soccer, both on and off the pitch, from junior levels and up. There needs to be a change in the way of thinking, and to lessen the promiscuous exchanges of favors, a national disease, that riddles the country.”

For some, though, the only way to get over the pain of the defeat is to look to the future. Luciano Santos, aged 39, said: “It is sad, but everyone will have forgotten this game when the next World Cup starts in four years time.”


Tearful Brazilian Team Holds Nation on Edge

Brazil's Neymar reacts as his team celebrates their penalty shootout win against Chile at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil on June 28, 2014.
Brazil's Neymar reacts as his team celebrates their penalty shootout win against Chile at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil on June 28, 2014. Toru Hanai—Reuters

The host country's youthful team appears overwhelmed by emotion heading into its decisive World Cup match against Colombia

Are our players cracking up? It’s the question all of Brazil is asking in the run up to the national team’s quarter-final clash against Colombia on Friday.

No country has in the history of the tournament ever been under so much pressure to win the World Cup as Brazil is this year, and the signs are that their players are struggling to cope.

Captain Thiago Silva and goalkeeper Júlio César were overcome by tears at the end of extra time in Saturday’s game against Chile–before the dramatic penalty shoot-out that saw Brazil scrape through.

When Brazil finally won, the players responded with unrestrained joy and more collective weeping, their emotional fragility laid bare.

“Make no mistake. [Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari] is startled by the tearfulness of the players, the emotional state of some experienced athletes and the difficulty of lowering the adrenaline levels.” wrote Luiz Antonio Prosperi, the sports editor of the Estado de S. Paulo. “It’s as if the snake is killing itself with its own poison.”

Brazil began the tournament as overwhelming favorites. Not only has the country more World Cup victories than any other, but it won the Confederations Cup last year and has the extra advantage of playing in front of a home crowd.

Confidence within the team was sky high. “I believe 100 per cent that Brazil will win the World Cup,” said Scolari last year. “We already have one hand on the trophy,” Scolari’s deputy Carlos Alberto Parreira said a few weeks ago.

Yet even though Brazil topped their group in the opening stage, they have not been playing well and very nearly were knocked out by Chile in the Round of 16, which Scolari said would have been the greatest humiliation in the history of Brazilian soccer.

Anything less than outright victory will be deemed a failure. This is always the case for Brazil in World Cups, but the situation is worse this time because of they are hosts.

And people remember what happened in 1950, the last time the tournament was in Brazil.

Brazil was the favorite, but lost to Uruguay in the final group stage match. Keeper Barbosa, who was judged to have made a mistake in Uruguay’s winning goal, became a nation’s scapegoat.

Before his death, virtually penniless, in 2000, he used to say: “Under Brazilian law the maximum sentence is thirty years. But my imprisonment has been for fifty.”

“No one wants to be Barbosa,” Márcio Santos, a member of Brazil’s 1994 World Cup winning side, has said.

Earlier this week the psychologist Regina Brandão, who has worked with Scolari since 1993, visited the Brazilian training camp in the hills near Rio de Janeiro.

“We have a good relationship with her,” said Brazil’s star player Neymar after she met the players. “She has helped us and I am learning a lot of stuff.”

Neymar denied that the team was choking. “No one has emotional problems. The [Chile] game was emotional and I got emotional, but we are all well and are prepared to take on Colombia and, God willing, go through to the next stage.”

As the team’s outstanding talent, Neymar, aged 22, is under the most pressure to perform and he has looked relaxed and comfortable during most of the competition, scoring four goals already and converting Brazil’s final penalty in the shoot-out against Chile.

Yet he wept during the national anthem before the game against Mexico, perhaps a sign of the vulnerability that was much talked about after the game.

But the player who has looked most troubled by pressure is Thiago Silva, Brazil’s captain, who at the end of extra time in the Chile game left his teammates to sit on a ball on his own, where he cried and prayed.

Discussion this week about the national team has been as much about the mental state of the players as it has been about the tactics. One concern is that the team is very young, with only two players in the current line up who were also starters in 2010.

Vinicius Mota, of the Folha de S. Paulo, wrote: “Scolari’s team is vulnerable because of the noticeable immaturity of its players….It is not their age but the way that they have been isolated from daily life since the moment they became successful sportsmen. For almost everything they do they have assistants to help. On the pitch, with the hopes of millions of Brazilians on their shoulders, the spoilt children don’t have anyone to run to. They choke. They let themselves be dominated by weaker opponents. They cry.”

Yet there are those who believe that the team has showed guts to get this far, such as Tostão, who played alongside Pelé in the 1970 World Cup winning team.

“It is fashionable to say that the biggest problem of the national team is emotional,” he wrote in a column, “that the players can’t handle the pressure and cry too much, as if crying was incompatible with reason and lucidity. I think the opposite. What will save this team is the emotional involvement of the players, pushed on by the fans and by the pressure of playing at home.”

Whatever happens against Colombia Friday– there won’t be a dry eye in the house.


TIME World Cup

All Brazilian Eyes Are on Soccer Savior Neymar

When the World Cup starts today, 200 million Brazilians will invest all their hopes of victory in a player who is the best the country has produced for a generation


Soccer may be a team sport but when the World Cup kicks off today with the opening game between Brazil and Croatia all Brazilian eyes will be on one man, Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior. The 22-year-old Brazilian carries the weight of expectation of 200 million home fans to whom anything less than victory in the tournament will be a crushing disappointment.

Neymar – he is known only by his first name – is hailed as the best Brazilian soccer player to have emerged in the last decade and his dazzling skills are considered indispensible to Brazil’s chances to bag the World Cup for a record sixth time. “This is the first time in the history of Brazilian football that the team’s attack is dependent on just one player,” soccer legend Pelé told the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper.

“If Neymar isn’t playing well, Brazil might play well but they won’t win,” says Rai Souza Vieira de Oliveira, a former Brazil captain. “Neymar’s performances will be the deciding factor.”

That’s a lot of responsibility – and pressure – for one young man to bear, but Neymar appears unfazed. “I’m going to play the World Cup, in my own country. I can’t see that as pressure. It has to give me pride and happiness to take onto the pitch,” he told Red Bulletin magazine this week.

Brazil’s number 10 actually seems to thrive on being the center of attention. As a teenage player for the Brazilian club Santos, he stood out not just for his spectacular dribbles and goals but because he wore his hair in a large mohican with bleached blonde highlights. He conveys the image of a mischievous, carefree scamp, a cheeky but charming joker.

Nor is he shy about capitalizing on his role as Brazil’s great soccer hope. His face stares at you almost everywhere you go in Brazil. He advertises more than a dozen products – including soda, a bank, a car manufacturer, batteries, sunglasses, a perfume, a smartphone app, phones, ice cream and sports gear. This month he is also on the cover of Brazilian Vogue in a joint photo-shoot with supermodel Gisele Bündchen. His detractors call this “Neymarketing”.

Neymar was just 11 when he joined the youth divisions of Santos. Already tipped as a future star, aged 13 he travelled to Spain for a trial with Real Madrid, the richest soccer team in the world, but turned them down so he could stay at home.

He played his first professional game aged 17 and within a year was feted as the best player in Brazil. He was so thin that his coach described him having a physique of a butterfly, but even so was able to dribble past defenders and score stunning goals. He had the improvisation, exhibitionism and playfulness of the great players of the past.

Brazilians see Neymar as a savior. “Neymar’s style of play, both aesthetically generous and ruthlessly efficient, has recovered like no other the art at the core of genuine Brazilian football,” writes Paulo Vinicius Coelho in his biography of Neymar. “We had begun to doubt our capacity to produce players who can truly honour this rich tradition. We even began to fear for our footballing identity.”

Neymar’s ability to remind Brazilians of their greatest, most stylish players and teams has made him outlandishly popular. Once his security guards had to lock him in an airport toilet to protect him from fans, the so-called Neymarzetes. He fuels the popularity through his use of social media, keeping 5.4 million Instagram followers up to date with his wardrobe, hairstyles and tattoos. “Some might think it’s tacky, but Neymar’s style is authentic. He is always inventing new ways to present himself and stand out,” Fabiana Moritz, fashion editor of Brazilian Playboy, told the Estado de S. Paulo.

When he was 18, Neymar’s performances in the Brazilian league attracted more offers from the big European clubs. He chose to rebuff them a second time, making him the first great Brazilian player since the 1980s to stay in Brazil, turning him into even more of a national hero. Yet by staying in Brazil he was also limiting his career, since the top players all play in Europe. Finally, after four seasons in Brazil, last year he transferred to Barcelona.

Shortly before he arrived in Europe, he was the heart of the Brazil team that won the 2013 Confederations Cup, winning the Golden Ball for best player. But in his first season in Spain he has been overshadowed by others: his teammate the Argentinian Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo, the current FIFA world player of the year, at Real Madrid.

Neymar’s job now is to prove that he’s the real deal on the biggest stage of all. A nation’s happiness depends on it.

Bellos is the author of Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life

TIME World Cup

Brazil Prepares for the World Cup with Mixed Emotions

An activist holds a protest poster in front of the municipal stadium prior to a training session by Japan's national soccer in Sorocaba
An activist holds a protest poster in front of the municipal stadium prior to a training session by Japan's national soccer in the town of Sorocaba, June 8, 2014. Maxim Shemetov—Reuters

Many in the soccer-mad nation are angry at the cost and mismanagement of preparations for the tournament

When Brazil kicks off against Croatia on Thursday in the first game of the 2014 World Cup, Brazilians will celebrate the return of soccer’s premier tournament for the first time since 1950 to the country that most of the world sees as the true home of soccer. But it will likely be a bittersweet celebration, marred by anger as much as by the inevitable partying. That’s because the run-up to the World Cup has, in many respects, been an $11 billion showcase for the deficiencies of a nation that can seem so confident and yet still finding its feet as a major economic and political power.

Many of the stadiums built or renovated for the tournament are only just ready after embarrassing delays, airport buildings will remain unfinished, and some infrastructure projects have not even started. Brazilians are furious about the public money being spent when many Brazilians remain living in poverty and when many basic government services are crying out for investment. A poll published on June 2 revealed that only a slender majority of Brazilians remain in favor of the World Cup – 51% – compared with 42% who are against it.

“For the first time in my life there is no euphoria in the air at the prospect of a World Cup,” says Milton Hatoum, aged 61, who is one of Brazil’s best known novelists.

Brazilians are also depressed by the incompetence, corruption and greed of those in charge. About two million people took part in protests against the World Cup last year, and more demonstrations are planned once the games are underway.

The poll numbers suggest that the Brazilian government and Brazil’s soccer authorities have made a mess of an event that they hoped would give the country a huge boost. It is particularly embarrassing since the sport remains its most important symbol of national identity. “São Paulo feels quiet. Only a few streets are painted with murals. I’m not seeing a party atmosphere,” says Hatoum of his home city, which is hosting the opening game on Thursday.

But some observers of the role soccer plays in Brazil believe that the lack of enthusiasm, and even outright hostility to the World Cup this year will give way to Brazil’s outsized passion for soccer as soon as the tournament begins. “There’s no way that the World Cup will fail to take off,” wrote Tostão, a veteran of Brazil’s 1970 World Cup-winning side, in his column in the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper last week. “There is an avalanche of adverts and news stories, thousands of people want to make money from it, there is a huge nationalistic sentiment, the feeling that we need to party in the streets has surged in the last few days and – most importantly – the national team is playing well and its star forward player [Neymar] is magisterial.”

Some Brazilians believe that for all the anger at the way the World Cup there are signs that fans will be swept up by the pure joy of the games. Last year at the Confederations Cup – which marked the start of the anti-World Cup protests – the crowd sang the Brazilian national anthem so loudly and determinedly that they broke with protocol and kept on singing after the recorded music had stopped. The anger at the authorities was channeled into a rousing and patriotic wall of sound.

And then there’s the Neymar factor. For the first time since the golden era of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaká ended almost a decade ago, Brazil once again has a contender for the best player in the world. Neymar is loved not only because he plays well, but also because he plays in a very Brazilian way. His game is based around improvisation, teasing dribbles and sublime ball skills – what Brazilians call “futebol-arte”, or artistic soccer. Neymar’s charisma on the pitch makes Brazilians proud not just of him, but of themselves.

“Neymar is not quite at level of [Lionel] Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo but he has a bigger repertory of beautiful plays, with more special tricks. He plays like a child at an informal kickabout game, always up for having fun and dribbling past whoever gets in his way,” wrote Tostão.

So long as Neymar is on form, Brazilian fans believe their team can win the World Cup for the sixth time. If they do, the tournament will be remembered as an $11 billion showcase for Brazil’s sporting supremacy rather than as the public relations disaster it has been so far.

A win may alleviate public anger at the mismanagement of the event, but this is likely only to be temporary since the preparations for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics are already beset with similar problems.“Of course Brazilians will support their team, and if they are champions there will be huge celebrations. But the joy at the football does not exclude the anger. What’s different about this World Cup is that for the first time Brazilians have realized that there are some things that are more important than football,” says Hatoum.

Brazil may not win, of course. Failure to secure the trophy would be a huge disappointment, but it would not be a disaster on the scale of what happened the last time Brazil hosted the World Cup. In 1950 Brazil lost the final game against Uruguay, a result that is widely considered the greatest tragedy in contemporary Brazilian history. The trauma reinforced a sense of failure and insecurity that scarred the national psyche for the next decades – even once it had won the tournament in 1958, 1962 and 1970.

But contemporary Brazil is a very different place from the Brazil of 1950. The country is now not only known for soccer. It is the world’s seventh biggest economy, an agricultural superpower, and it has huge untapped resources of oil and gas. Brazilian sportsmen have won tennis grand slams, motor racing championships and track-and-field world records.

Winning the World Cup would be cause for the world’s biggest street party. But unlike in 1950, a loss would not leave such a huge scar. Even as they prepare to host the world’s greatest soccer tournament, Brazilians know that there is a lot more to their country than the beautiful game.

Bellos is the author of Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life

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