Brazil Smiling Again as World Cup Trauma is Left in the Past

Eight months on since their humiliation, superficially everything appears to remain intact in the Brazilian way.

Published: 29th March 2015 09:21 AM  |   Last Updated: 29th March 2015 09:21 AM   |  A+A-


It is now eight months since Brazil's collective humiliation in their home World Cup. Eight months since the night when everything went wrong, when the nation watched their dreams of ultimate victory sinking beneath a German onslaught, the semi-final night when a much vaunted team of yellow-shirted heroes played as if possessed by the spirit of Billy Smart. The night, in short, when the twelve year-old who normally operates David Luiz appeared to have handed the controller over to a passing chimp.

But if Brazil was permanently traumatised by that occasion it would be hard to spot the evidence. Eight months on, superficially everything appears to remain intact in the Brazilian way. Walking along the beach front in Rio this week, the place seemed much as it always was, the beach occupied with non-stop games of football and kick volleyball, played with a speed, grace and athleticism that takes the breath away. Ask ordinary Brazilians what they recall of the defeat to Germany and most now smile. For many a Rio resident the 7-1 setback has been reimagined as a moment of high comedy, of farce rather than tragedy. For others there is a sense of relief that at least when the inevitable trauma came it happened against the eventual victors in the semi. Imagine if the team played like that against Argentina in the final. Now that would have been humiliation.

The truth is, the proposition widely put about at the time that Brazilian society would go on to suffer in the manner it did in 1950, after the defeat to Uruguay in the last World Cup to be held in the country, seems wildly pessimistic. Most people appear to have shrugged their shoulders and got on with life, now looking forward to the next time.

"It has never been anywhere near as big a trauma as 1950," says Tim Vickery, the BBC's South American football expert who lives in Rio. "1950 was interpreted as failure of Brazilian society, of its multi-racial heart. That's why it went so deep. That's why it hurt for so long. 2014 was a failure of Brazilian football. That is a much less significant thing." Indeed, while the stadia in the north of the country have remained largely unused since the event (the one in Brasilia, for instance, currently stands empty, its car park used as a bus depot), there is still a sense that positives could be drawn from the World Cup for wider society. Here was a brilliant showcase of the country, the television pictures of the carnival atmosphere in Rio and elsewhere sending out unbuyable publicity of a friendly, welcoming nation that knows how to host a party.

"A lot of people are happy that if not providing a great result, at least the World Cup was a great occasion," says Vickery. "The idea of whether the money spent would be good for Brazil has been quietly forgotten. There's no physical legacy, but that was obvious from day one. But the wider legacy shouldn't be underestimated: they may not have won the thing, but everyone had a great time." In many ways Brazilian football itself has given a similar impression of seamless recovery. The domestic season resumed very quickly after the World Cup had ended, with bigger crowds drawn in, record numbers attending live matches. The national team, meanwhile, began a series of friendlies which have turned rapidly into a process of regeneration. After last Thursday's victory against the French in Paris, they have recorded seven successive victories since the miseries of the semi final. And when the qualification process begins for the next World Cup in Russia in the autumn, the nine home matches will be played across the country, finding a use for the white elephant stadia in cities like Manaus and Recife.

Though Vickery for one cautions whether, in the urge to recover, the proper lessons of that defeat have been forgotten rather than properly acted upon.

"It is amazing how quickly it has became part of past," he says. "And it could be argued that by the re-appointment of Dunga [who was in charge of the national team from July 2006 to July 2010] Brazilian football has behaved like the ostrich, stuck its hand in the sand and looked to the past, rather than addressing its glaring fault lines." That is a significant difference with 1950. After the first horror in the Maracana, the national federation immediately sought ways to ensure it never happened again.

"Brazilian football became great through displaying remarkable curiosity," says Vickery. "After the Uruguay defeat, they looked to the rest of the world for ways to improve. Coaches from Argentina came in, ideas were borrowed from Hungary, Brazilians were pioneers in sports medicine. That's why they became successful. And gradually, instead of success being seen as part of a process, it was seen as a birth right. And oddly that impression hasn't changed since last July. The reaction has been let's bring back Dunga, go back into our own past rather than learn from what the rest of the world is doing." The most telling evidence of the serious structural problems in the Brazilian game, the very thing that led to the World Cup horror show, came in the last Copa Libertadores. If English football was dealt a blow by the failure of any Premier League teams to qualify for the quarter-finals of the Champions League it was as nothing compared to the Brazilian league's inability to get a single club into the semi-finals of the South American equivalent competition. And this despite salaries in Brazilian football being way ahead of anything paid anywhere else in the continent.

While Chilean, Argentinian and Colombian football have eagerly embraced tactical change, Brazil's remains rooted in its own past. While Argentinians and Chileans are flavour of the month, there is, for instance, not a single Brazilian coach employed by any of Europe's top teams. The same goes for players, Neymar apart. Once the country was the leading exporter of talent out of South America. Now European clubs are increasingly looking to Argentina, Colombia and Chile. The big names of the European game are Messi, Aguero and James Rodriguez, not Fred or Jo or Hulk. Meanwhile, there are Brazilians in the national squad playing in the Chinese and Russian leagues.

"It's a cautionary tale of the dangers of complacency," says Vickery. "The Brazilian league is very poor. Which means there is less desire by the very top sides to buy Brazilian; Lucas Silva was the last last big buy. What Brazilian football produces these days is an endless succession of defensive midfielders. It has become almost impossible to find a central midfielder who can pass." While such an assessment might seem a little harsh on Oscar, Willian and Philippe Coutinho, the real standing of the Brazilian game - and the extent of its recovery - will be given its first searching examination at the Emirates this afternoon. Here they will face Chile, a side on the up, filled with swift, fluent players, managed by a much coveted coach. A side which, moreover, came within a couple of millimetres of inflicting even earlier trauma on Brazil in the quarter-final of the World Cup.


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