As the party ends, now the backlash begins
Oh me of little faith — but, it turns out, no little business acumen, much to my own surprise.
Last weekend in Rio, I bought a Brazil top to bring home to my little daughter, even if she is more of a Messi than a Neymar girl.
The real deal it is too, with the gorgeous yellow and the green trim reminding you that, despite those famous blue shorts, there is far more green than blue on the Brazilian flag.
Happily, I didn’t pay as much as I would have done in one official merchandise shop I’d chanced upon earlier in the week, the asking price of R$210 (€70) a reminder of how far removed from the reality of the lives of most Brazilians their Copa Do Mundo has been. And they wanted a cool €50 for the shorts to boot.
Anyway, I shopped around, as the consumer specialists always advise, and managed to pick up what I wanted elsewhere at a much more congenial price. And so I was feeling pretty pleased with myself when a dark thought suddenly struck: what if Brazil were to go on and actually win this World Cup? Because in that event, I suddenly realised, the shirt would be rendered instantly and forever out of date, for the glaringly obvious reason that prominent above the crest are those famous five stars, one for each of their previous triumphs.
But that was then — a few days before their much anticipated semi-final against Germany — and this is now, two days after Brazil’s long dark night of the soul, when my new concern must be if even a six-year-old would deign wear the shirt of a team whose status in world football currently languishes somewhere between shameful and laughing stock.
Has any other side of consequence in the history of the game ever gone from heroes to zeroes at the mach speed with which Brazil fell from grace on Tuesday? Certainly not on a stage as big as this. Blink and you’d have missed it: inside 11 minutes, they’d conceded one goal; in the space of six minutes, another four, and by the end of 90 minutes of unrelenting misery, they found themselves on the wrong end of a 7-1 scoreline, the national heroes who’d been cheered onto the field now jeered back off it, all those stirring morning headlines about the winning unity of team and country looking, by nightfall in Belo Horizonte, like the cruellest form of parody.
But then everything looked different in light of the worst defeat in the national team’s history, even down to the slogan on the coach which has been ferrying them around this vast country these past few weeks: “Brace yourselves! The sixth is coming.”
Insert your own gag about the seventh here. And maybe also one about how a bit of bracing actually wouldn’t have gone astray on Tuesday. Anything at all, indeed, other than the virus of capitulation which began in midfield and travelled up and down the spine of the team until the whole collective was fatally infected. When I got back to my hotel after the game and switched on the box, the broadcaster Milton Neves appeared to be having a full blown nervous breakdown, repeatedly shouting ‘Neymar! Neymar! Neymar!’ in an increasingly squeaky and hysterical voice, the point clearly being that he’d had up to here with all those tearful people who still clung to the delusion that the Brazilian team’s problems could be attributed to the absence of their talisman.
By yesterday morning, the papers were in full hue and cry. ‘The Shame Of Shames’ said O Globo, with ‘Lance’ even calling for Scolari’s resignation before Saturday’s third-place play-off.
For the Irish onlooker, as dumbfounded as everyone else by what I witnessed in the Estadio Mineiro on Tuesday, there was at least a handy phrase from our recent political past to sum it all up: this was Brazilian’s football’s GUBU hour.
Indeed, the uncomfortable thought also struck that this was just like watching... Ireland. Or, to be specific about it, the Ireland of Giovanni Trapattoni on that bleak night when they had six goals smashed past them by Germany in Dublin. How comforting to know we’ll be meeting these boys again on the road to France.
Even if no-one could have predicted the full gory extent of Tuesday’s massacre, it’s not being wise after the event to say that, throughout this tournament, this Brazil team was always flirting with self-destruction. Well, it’s moved from flirtation into a full-blown affair, a deathly embrace.
The ramifications will be felt well beyond the football pitch, as the country shakes off the spell which has had it entranced for the last four weeks and wakes up again to the myriad problems of inequality and injustice conveniently forced to the background as yellow fever gripped the land.
Now, all is changed, changed utterly. Or as O Tempo put it: ‘The party’s over, the lights went out, the people disappeared.’
But they haven’t gone away, you know.