Brazilians facing nightmare on home soil
Brazilians woke up this Saturday morning to a relatively unfamiliar sensation. Even though it has been 12 years since the country's last World Cup win, five mundial titles, a steady production line of talent and even the minor feather-in-the-cap bonus of last year's Confederations Cup triumph all add up to put an inherent spring in the step of the average Brazilian football fan.
That all changed after the "Massacre at the Mineirao" last Tuesday. Now the glass is not so much half-empty as knocked off the bar and smashed all over the pavement. This weekend, Brazilians get to experience the 48 hours of gloom and doom that downtrodden football fans all over the world know so well.
As a drizzly, overcast dawn broke over Rio de Janeiro on Saturday, Brazil had only the lukewarm charms of the third/fourth-place playoff against Netherlands to look forward to. For those who choose to watch on Sunday, an even more harrowing afternoon awaits, as Argentina, the host nation's historic, hated rivals, face Germany, responsible for dishing out the most humiliating defeat in Brazilian football history just a few days ago, to decide who will be crowned world champions at the Maracana in Brazil's fabled own backyard.
For the locals, all there is left to do is secar (to actively cheer for another team to lose). Most of the secar-ing, obviously enough, will be aimed at Argentina. Either way, like on the morning of the wedding of a distant cousin, long hours of pretending to have fun lie ahead.
It has been a rough few days of soul-searching for Brazil and Brazilian football. Top sports journalists such as Paulo Vinicius Coelho and Juca Kfouri have called for an overhaul of the decrepit club game in the country, where teams are penniless, average crowds hover around the 15,000 mark, and a calendar packed with meaningless games exhausts players and drives away fans. Even president Dilma Rousseff had her say, too: "Our players shouldn't be exported abroad. If we're the sixth or seven biggest economy in the world, we should be able to keep them here."
Worryingly, however, the great and good of Brazilian soccer, such as president of the CBF, Jose Maria Marin, and his sidekick Marco Polo Del Nero, seem oblivious to the criticism and calls for reform. Del Nero, soon to take over from Marin as CBF president, said that "if it was down to me, [Luiz Felipe] Scolari would stay. ... Overall, the work was good." After the Dutch defeat, meanwhile, Scolari kept quiet about his future. Unsurprising, given his team's latest humiliation saw them booed off after the 3-0 defeat in Brasilia.
The only thing that could make Brazilians' mood worse, it seems, is the possibility of Argentina dancing the tango all over the Maracana pitch on Sunday. The roots of the rivalry between South America's footballing superpowers can be read here -- and, with an estimated 100,000 Argentinians having invaded Rio, the atmosphere in the city on World Cup final afternoon promises to be lively to say the least. Perhaps no one will be secar-ing more feverishly than President Rousseff, who, with elections looming, is bound to be worried about the possibility of having to hand the trophy to Leo Messi at Brazilian football's most sacred cathedral.
Unsurprisingly amid such an atmosphere of recrimination and self-doubt, in the bars and restaurants in the Botafogo neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro, the mood was subdued for the third-place playoff -- a far cry from the hysterical atmosphere of Brazil's previous knockout ties against Chile, Colombia and, of course, Germany.
"The problem goes deep into Brazilian football," says Pedro Scliar, a photographer. "The team has no system, no experience. We're running around looking for players."
His friend Marcelo Nunes, a businessman, agrees. "It goes right to the top. The CBF [the Brazilian FA], the structure, the roots of the game."
Pedro says he had been expecting Brazil's defeat, if not the scoreline. "I saw it coming from the moment he called up the squad," he says.
"It was Neymar and 10 others," Marcelo adds.
It is not long before talk turns to the Old Enemy. All afternoon there has been wild applause among the drinkers whenever a Germany fan walks past.
"I'm supporting Argentina," Marcelo says. "If it's Argentina against Brazil, then I want us to destroy them. But if it's Argentina against Germany, I want Argentina to win. It's South America, after all."
Pedro disagrees. "Are you kidding?" he says. "Imagine watching them win the World Cup on Brazilian soil! It would be a nightmare."
At another table, Flavia da Silva, a student, agrees. "Anyone but Argentina," she said laughing. "It would be too much!"
Marcelo may be in a minority, but with Brazil's World Cup dreams in tatters and the possibility of their local rivals walking away with the trophy, it promises to be a lively World Cup final day in Rio de Janeiro.