In the end, we Brazilians got it all wrong

2014-07-20 15:00

On June 12, the first day of the World Cup, we Brazilians had two things on our minds. One: the Seleção, as we call our national team, looked pretty solid and would make us proud. Maybe winning the sixth trophy was a mere formality.

Two: The organisers had made a mess of preparing the country for the tournament, with delayed infrastructure works and untested new airports and bus services. Violent protests were a threat. It would be shameful for the country’s image.

In the end, we got it all wrong. The team went down with the biggest humiliation in its glorious 100-year history. And the tournament itself was one of the best so far. The government’s slogan that it would be the “Cup of Cups” had quite a lot of truth to it.

Four years ago, I covered the South Africa World Cup for my Brazilian newspaper Folha de S.?Paulo and could see how it was a moment of pride and affirmation for a country that was for too long associated with the disgrace of apartheid.

In Brazil, a country that doesn’t have such ugly scars, there was a different atmosphere: it was a month-long party.

The beach of Copacabana in Rio, the neighbourhood of Vila Madalena in Sao Paulo, among other places, became noisy meeting spots for fans from across the world. Huge caravans of Latin Americans from Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Mexico invaded Brazil, many arriving penniless and with no tickets after very long journeys in motorhomes just to enjoy the moment.

True, the success of the event was helped by the fortunate fact that matches were generally very good, with some spectacular moments. How can one forget the sensational 5-1 thrashing of defending champions Spain at the hands of the Netherlands, with that amazing Robin van Persie header? Or the beauty of James Rodríguez’s goal against Uruguay – the ball performing a perfect curve after a volley just outside the box? Or Messi crossing the field in a right-to-left diagonal line to score in the very last minute against Iran – one of his trademark plays that is impossible to stop.

Goalkeepers were amazing, from Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa to the USA’s Tim Howard, who set a new record for saves in one game against Belgium; and Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas, who helped his team become the greatest surprise of the World Cup.

Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez biting an Italian defender and the back injury of Neymar in the match against Colombia were ugly moments for sure, but added drama to a World Cup that was not short of it.

And then, of course, there was the solid German side, which taught us new lessons about collective play. The fact that there was no Zinedine Zidane or Ronaldo on the German team tells us a lot about the power of putting the group above the individual.

Airports and stadiums functioned without major glitches, and the feared wave of protests and violence never materialised. For us Brazilians, of course, the World Cup ended in a farce, after the 7-1 defeat against Germany and 3-0 against the Netherlands. Ten goals in only five days, 10% of all goals conceded by Brazil in 20 World Cups.

Zanini is foreign editor of Folha de S.?Paulo

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