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I wrote previously that the notion that football is boring, or low-scoring, is a crock. I think that everyone, other than the most rabid partisans, went into yesterday’s semifinal between Brazil and Germany thinking it would be a close, tense match. That’s what we expect at these late stages and what these teams have served recently. Well, Germany rewrote the book. In a first half that surpassed stunning, they poured five goals past Brazil, three coming in a three minute spell that had people gasping for air.

As a former player watching as a neutral, but wanting to see Brazil win, my reactions were simple. When the first chances fell to Brazil, it looked as if they had a way to open the German defence. They’d struggled to do that easily in previous games, and without Neymar as playmaker and scorer, things looked good. But, forget that. In case a corner, men charged towards the near post, David Luiz was badly out of position and behind him came the predator, Muller, to volley side footed into the net. That’s alright: 1-0, and plenty of time.

We were watching the match in a hotel restaurant, just on the coast down from Ipanema. My wife had gotten everyone yellow Brazil shirts, and a green and yellow wig for our daughter.

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We are Brazil for a day

We’d walked along Copacabana beach to get there, through a throng heading the other way, towards the Fan Fest area, with its large, outdoor screen. Everyone, bar a few, including some Australians with an inflated kangaroo, for the home team.

At the restaurant, we could see one of the favelas on a hillside. The hill was covered in dark clouds.

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Looming clouds, a portent

Rain had fallen earlier in the day, as forecast. But, I asked if this was an omen. No one replied. Lightning started to fork as we waited for our meals, and the rain lashed down. Some municipal guards came inside for shelter. The TV blanked out. Groans. The image came back. Cheers. “Iron out the kinks now,” someone said. Our food arrived. We started to deal with it, but were bothered by rain coming in from a side window. Then, another patron pointed to water on the floor. A pipe had burst and water was jetting up through the floor, and rolling towards us. Bags and things were grabbed off the floor. A man put his foot over the hole from where the water was coming. Germany scored their second goal. By the time we had rearranged ourselves, Germany had scored two more. Three goals in three minutes. I looked at the dark sky.

The screen was filled with images of crying fans. Brazilian players were looking as though they has seen a ghost. Where was Christ the a Redeemer? The game was half an hour in. Coach Scolari waved his arms, and mouthed what seemed like instructions. The analysis started. But, only one question, really: what was happening? Records were being shattered. “Stay positive,” my wife and her Bahamian friend muttered. Germany scored a fifth. Good, Lord. This was a disaster. http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/photos/galleries/y=2014/m=7/gallery=brasil-alemania-en-imagenes-2401948-2401954.html#2401884

I’ve never seen anything like this. Brazil had for years been known to be bad at defending, but goal scoring kept them above others. Then, they learned how to defend and how to be rough, thanks to Scolari in an earlier presence. The teams never had the magical flair of the 1970 team, but Brazil kept winning or being close. No more beautiful game, but still plenty of trophies. Winning ugly, even with the much disliked penalty shootout. Brazil was never routed, though. Now, this: down 5-0 at half time.

The second half began with promise and also portents. Brazil created clear chances, but failed to beat the German keeper, either through his good position in or through sloppy and hasty shooting. Then, a Germany break away. Here we go again, 6-0. Skip the detail, then 7-0. That Brazil got a consolation goal to end up losing 7-1, is irrelevant. The tears flowed as hard as the rain drenching outside. More analysis. My older daughter and I are football coaches, so we went into the Xs and Os of what system seemed to be used, and who seemed to not be playing well or being invisible.

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Big Phil with little to say

It didn’t really matter, because a top level international team had been royally schooled, stripped naked, and thrown out into the freezing cold of a humiliating defeat. Worst of all, at home. The hopes of a nation drowned. The little happiness that football had brought was now replaced by the dread that would be there for eternity. No loss of face from a defeat by Argentina in the final. This was unimaginable and much worse. No need for the statistics and records. Worst of most things to do with Brazilian football was written into the stone tablets of history. I thought of Pele, and knew he must be shedding tears so hard and salty that all around him had to cry, too.

We eventually left the hotel and went to a bar in Ipanema. We had heard reports that ‘manifestations’ were happening in Copacabana, and that riot police were out dealing with that, so wanted things to cool down. We’d seen the heavy deployment of security personnel on our way to watch the game. By the time we reached the bar, owned originally by the writer of the song ‘Girl from Ipanema’, Vinícius de Moraes, the rain was teeming down.
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We got out of the cab and joked with some Americans who’d watched the game outdoors and were drenched. The rain poured for about another two hours. Any riotous intentions were likely being washed away, literally.

We watched post match analyses, and saw the drawn face of the Brazil coach, his tearful captain and vice captain, the Joyous but respectful German team representatives. We couldn’t hear their words, but I thought I could discern their sentiments. We drank coffee and ate dessert. Someone mentioned listening to music upstairs later. Most of us had no interest. We headed out into the flooded streets to hail a cab.
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One stopped soon, and we forded the water to get in. We all had soaked feet, to rub in the ignominy of defeat (a pun?). Rain had eased, and as we approached Copacabana, we saw drying streets, and people having a normal-looking evening: little groups by bars, waving hands in animation, people with little bags of shopping.

Someone said that Brazilians have short memories, and the politicians will hope so, as elections approach in October. History has its entry, and short memories won’t erase that. Will it matter? Who knows. The players now have embarrassment engraved into their character. The joy of previous wins, especially against Colombia a few evenings ago, are like ashes now. The ecstatic face of David Luiz after he scored his stunning free kick could not compare to his tear-drenched look, as the defeated captain. That mantle, given to him because the actual captain, Thiago Silva, was suspended. Thanks, a lot.

And Neymar? Spared actually playing because of a broken vertebra. The speculation will never end about whether his injury and absence were the real difference. If Brazil had lost heart before the match. If Brazil had no hope without him during the match. He can score. Fred and Hulk cannot, with regularity. As one analyst wrote, the needed a syllable or two to be Brazilian greats, like Pé-lé, Rivelino, Tostao, Romero, Ronaldo. One syllable is like having only one foot in football.

Though the context is completely different, I can only think of Stevie Wonder’s lyrics for ‘I believe…’:

Shattered dreams, worthless years,
Here am I encased inside a hollow shell,
Life began, then was done,
Now I stare into a cold and empty well

The search for scapegoats has already begun. It will hunt through the team from its top, naturally. One trenchant critique, by Bleacher report, says much with which I would agree: David Luiz was pivotal (read here). If he played, the wrong role, however, was that by personal design or with coach’s approval? He was not the only player whose assignment seemed mixed up. We will hear more as days pass.

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Brazil has to believe in itself like never before. A pointless match for third place comes on Saturday. The pressure to win and play well should be there, but it will be muted by the lump in the throat that is missing out on the final. Whoever wins on Sunday, it cannot be Brazil. That dashed hope, like a burning flame, snuffed out.

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