The yellow and green jerseys are iconic. The national team of Brazil seems to carry something of the essence of football. The stadiums at the World Cup resembled beaches, packed with those famous yellow shirts, most of which carried the name of the man who carried the nation’s hopes.
Brazilian football was riding on the back of young Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior until that back broke. Neymar is recovering well; it may well take a lot longer however for his team mates to recover. For much of the tournament Neymar was a virtual Lone Ranger, but without even the assistance of Tonto.
The origins of the game of football remain disputed but few argue that the beautiful game was born and raised in Brazil. It now appears to have grown up and left home – gone to study in Spain before taking up an apprenticeship in Germany. The beautiful game returned home in the summer of 2014, but it wasn’t wearing yellow and green.
Growing up watching football, the rare occasions I got to see Brazil play on TV were invariably thrilling. Tricks, excitement, and the ‘samba’ version of the game were almost always delivered. The vintage of 2014 offered something different – Neymar aside – with their defence considered better than their attack. That defence turned out to be utterly calamitous when really tested but it appeared sound enough in the build up to the tournament.
Still, practically the whole of Brazil expected their team to win the World Cup.
One can only assume that this was based on the excitement of being hosts, nostalgia for more glorious eras, and the lessons of history which pointed to the advantage of South American sides on South American soil.
The last time Brazil won the World Cup, in 2002, they boasted a front three of Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho. In the semi final with Germany they lined up with Hulk, Fred and Bernard in the most advanced positions. No Neymar, no danger.
Fred was repeatedly and resoundingly praised by Scolari throughout the tournament but it felt like an attempt to shore up a fragile confidence. The backup option was Jo, a £19m flop. He came to the Premiership with a decent record in the Russian league but managed an embarrassing 6 goals in 48 games for City and Everton, only 1 of which was for the Manchester club. Here too, confidence was in short supply.
The events of the 8th of July in Belo Horizonte are still hard to comprehend. 7-1; four goals scored in just six incredible minutes; Germany overtaking Brazil as the all time leading scorers in the World Cup; Klose doing the same to Ronaldo; and the end of Brazil’s 62-match home unbeaten streak in competitive matches going back to 1975.
The scale of the defeat was absolutely shocking but the manner of the defeat was even more so. They were 11 players who looked as though they’d never met each other before. Once they lost the early goal you could see them begin to panic. It was extraordinary. Scolari needed to be a calm and reassuring presence but he had become increasingly hysterical as the tournament progressed. He waved his hands frantically before finally just resting his head in them.
At the end, there were tears and prayers and utter dejection, and that was just David Luiz. Made captain for the evening, he lost Muller for the first goal, then he lost his composure, and finally he seemed to lose his head completely and just ran around as if in some vain search for an exit.
The Brazilian players left the field looking dazed and confused, like a boxer staggering back to the dressing room after a brain shaking knockout blow. Not fully conscious of what had just hit them, there was still recognition on their faces of the enormity of it all – that this would be career defining.
In the stands, those that remained were similarly shaken. They had been witnesses to history in a scarcely believable way. They looked numb rather than angry. Anger could come later after the subsidence of shock.
The Germans looked rather bemused. “Were we really that good?” “Were they really that bad?” Nobody seemed to know. It was such a hard game to assess. Germany were certainly clinically professional and beautifully so on occasion. Class and confidence radiated from every one of their players. They knew each other, their strengths and weaknesses, their plans A,B, and C, and how to avoid overcomplicating a game that is in essence a simple one.
The smart money suggests that Germany can look forward to a new era of dominance, but what of Brazil? The country can still produce supremely gifted individuals such as Neymar but its footballing identity has been eroded. The domestic league is a bit of a mess.
Germany of course suffered their own humiliation some 14 years earlier, finishing bottom of their group in the European Championships of 2000 without winning a game. It prompted the German FA to re-examine and rebuild the game in their country.
Will the Brazilians now do the same?