SAO PAULO -- The fireworks, blasts like cannons, were going off hours before the game. Not very many went off after. Anticipation had given way to humiliation, and by now this giant city seems to have accepted it. Brazil's historic defeat by the Germans might have been just bad enough to save us.
There have been fears, spoken of surprisingly often and openly, about what terrible things would happen if Brazil failed to win this World Cup -- something seen by some here almost as a divine right, a function of pure destiny. Mostly, people had talked about how sideways the world might go if the hosts lost to the hated Argentines in the final. Then every clamp and governor that had been thrown onto this crackling country -- most of the pre-tournament anger having subsided once the games began -- would be released. In the absence of any reason for unity, a potentially violent division would return.
It turns out a more decisive cataclysm was coming.
Tens of thousands, fenced in by police and metal barricades, packed into the FIFA Fan Fest in Sao Paulo's downtown core before Tuesday night's game. There were concerts and banners and sloshing cups of beer, the familiar motions of celebration, but in truth it was already a kind of limited buoyancy. With Neymar's injury and Thiago Silva's suspension, local hopes had been muted. But they were still there, if under the surface. The anthem wasn't sung so much as it was shouted, and then the whistle blew.
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Then the Germans did what they did -- and so quickly -- with each of their seven goals serving as another of the makeshift stages of accelerated Brazilian grief. The first was met with anxiety, the second with anger, the third with disappointment, the fourth with disbelief. Then came bemusement, surprisingly enough -- some percentage of the thinning crowd that remained actually began cheering for the Germans -- and then understanding and finally acceptance. If there were still a bomb set to go off, the late Brazilian goal, that slim measure of pride, cut the last wire.
By then, though, there was no longer any sense of real danger here, no feeling that riots were about to kick off. There were too many police, for starters, but more importantly, there wasn't really anything for the crowd to be angry about. This was a brutal defeat, but it contained no injustice or heartbreak. Brazil -- this Brazil -- just weren't good enough to win the World Cup, even given the advantages of home. They had barely beaten Chile, and they had struggled to hold on against the Colombians. Brazilians had remained hopeful their boys would continue to win, but it felt more and more as though they had stopped believing they would.
After they had been made doubtless, they left and went home, or they stumbled into bars in search of one last commiserating drink. Some even thought to blow their air horns, almost ironic screams of defiance against the dark.
Maybe the coming days will turn ugly, and fears will come true. Maybe this country will feel the way any of us does when houseguests linger too long. Maybe, for the first time in its history, Brazil will want the party to be over. But right now it doesn't feel that way. It doesn't feel like much of anything. Right now Sao Paulo feels like any other city in the world, except bigger, lit up, buzzing and perhaps even relieved to have joined the World Cup's ever-expanding ranks of the abruptly detached.