A Brazilian World Cup final – without Brazil

2014-07-13 13:00

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Brazilians will today suffer the indignity of following a World Cup final at the Maracana Stadium without their beloved team.

Worse, rivals Argentina made it to Rio to play against Germany, who humiliated the Seleção 7-1 in the semifinal.

Common sense says most Brazilians will cheer the Germans, that pasting notwithstanding. There is admiration for a team that is the embodiment of collective offensive play. Moreover, the Germans have been masters of public relations since their arrival in Brazil, full of praise for their hosts.

But many will forget the rivalry with their South American neighbours out of continental brotherhood or simply to honour Lionel Messi’s genius.

Germany is the clear favourite to win their fourth World Cup but they will have Maracana against them. Argentina fans are by far the noisiest of the competition, something the acoustics of the huge stadium will amplify.

A great final is expected, even if it’s not the one Brazilians wanted.

With an array of talent in Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, outstanding goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, Thomas Müller, Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos, Mesut Özil and the effervescent Miroslav Klose, Germany is capable of causing more South American tears to be shed.

But under the tutelage of the astute 59-year-old Alejandro Sabella, Argentina are no slouches.

The coach has instilled a culture of no over-reliance on Messi, with players like Sergio Romero, Sergio Agüero, Gonzalo Higuaín and Marcos Rojo raising their hands. Ángel di María may also make a comeback after injury – he has been spotted training on the sidelines.

But the hosts’ hospitality, the vibe and razzmatazz that have been the order of the day in this tournament, has now been overshadowed by the nightmarish, humiliating 7-1 disaster that will forever live in infamy.

The tragedy of Mineirao on July 8 is Brazil’s equivalent to Pearl Harbour. For a country lucky enough to have been spared wars and terrorist attacks, sports disasters are the closest things Brazilians have to national traumas.

The Maracanazo in the 1950 World Cup was one, the death of F1 racer Ayrton Senna in 1994 another. The past week added one more source of immense collective grief to the list.

After the loss to Germany, players, the public and pundits had the same answer to the question of how it could happen: “inexplicable”. But to put all the blame on the supernatural notion of the “inexplicable” is maybe too convenient a way for coach Luiz Felipe Scolari to minimise his mistakes.

His first was to weaken the midfield against the powerful German side. He had the option of starting with Chelsea’s Willian as a substitute for the injured Neymar but opted for Bernard, an inexperienced player with no defensive characteristics.

He insisted on Fred, who started the tournament as second only to Neymar as a star for fans, and ended it as the butt of jokes.

He thought that forming a “family” was enough to create a team, in lieu of tactics and training. And he never gave players the emotional capacity to withstand the tremendous pressure of playing a World Cup at home. The team suffered monumental breakdowns in every game.

What’s left for Brazilian soccer when the tournament is finally over? The prestige of the yellow shirt is at rock bottom. There is not much of a legacy for the World Cup in Russia in 2018.

Talk of a foreign coach to modernise the Seleção and bring them up to international standards is back, but it is uncertain the bosses of the Brazilian federation CBF would accept this.

Nationalist pride may prevail.

The long-overdue reforms of Brazilian soccer could happen at last but false starts have been announced before.

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