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Duarte: Dunga's return is complicated

Brazil Jul 21, 2014
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 Posted by Rory Smith
Jul 9, 2014

Host nation Brazil should be proud

FC's Craig Burley, Shaka Hislop and Robbie Earle lay into Brazil for their poor play.

By this stage, you know the quotes, and you know the stories. You know that Nelson Rodrigues, the playwright, described Brazil's defeat in the climax to the 1950 World Cup as a "great national catastrophe, something like our Hiroshima."

You know that losing the game made Pele's father cry.

That Moacir Barbosa, the goalkeeper held to blame for Uruguay's victory, served the rest of his life as a prisoner of his mistake.

You know that some games, some results, are more than just games, more than just results.

That the effects of the Maracanazo rippled out beyond sport, and that history will record that the Mineirazo could go the same way.

Few countries have tied their national identity up in football quite so much as Brazil.

The 1950 loss plunged the nation into a prolonged period of self-doubt -- with some observers even tracing their failure to a "genetic" weakness brought about by their mixed-race blood.

In 1970, when Pele, Jairzinho and the rest illuminated Mexico, the team's success was deployed by the country's ruling junta as proof that a new Brazil, a greater Brazil, was rising into the world.

Jornal do Brasil described it as being akin to the moon landings in the scale of human achievement. David Goldblatt, in his excellent "Futebol Nation," records billboards bearing Pele's image and the slogan "Nobody can stop this country now" being slung up across the country.

1950 and 1970, failure and glory, may not have changed Brazil. Their effects may have been imbued with a false significance by the wisdom of hindsight. But both came to stand as a cipher for what Brazil thought about itself.

Brazil's efforts as a host nation in the World Cup shouldn't be regarded poorly because of its national team's embarrassing loss to Germany.

In 1950, it was wracked with self-doubt. It was still feeling its way as a nation. It was concerned that it was too inferior to succeed. In 1970, with its economy booming, it was starting to feel more confident, more assertive.

What happened on two football pitches was coincidence, but they were coincidences that were readily hijacked to serve as allegories. The same may well happen with 2014.

The context is obvious, both in a footballing sense and a non-footballing one. Brazil's team in 2014 fervently hoped it would be good enough, but it fell short, ruthlessly exposed by a truly elite team.

So, too, Brazil the country, fervently hoping that staging the World Cup -- and then the Rio Olympics in 2016 -- might prove that it is a modern nation, but, thanks to its shortage of hospitals and schools and transport infrastructure, is actually falling short. The Mineirazo, like the Maracanazo, seems to speak to the failure not just of the team but of the country.

This, though, is barely half the picture.

Brazil has long bound its national identity up with football, and in this case that is not necessarily a bad thing. But instead of looking at the game, it would do well to look at the edifice around it.

That Brazil did not win the World Cup should not be used as a gauge of where the country is. How they have hosted it is a much better one.

For the second time in four years, those of us who travelled to the World Cup were warned that we were stepping into the unknown, a country where the streets were not safe, where violence was inescapable and security could not be guaranteed.

We had learned nothing from the fact that the crime wave that was supposed to ruin the South Africa World Cup did not materialise. We were told, once more, that the World Cup would be a disaster.

It was nothing of the sort. Yes, a few of the stadiums were only made ready with a few days to spare. Yes, there was an arrastao -- a sort of communal mugging -- on Copacabana beach in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Yes, there have been people robbed, and a group of England fans attacked. Yes, the traffic is appalling, and the rains in Recife were something to behold.

The dire predictions, though, did not come to pass. Brazil hosted the World Cup, and it was a success.

This seems a much better hook for an assessment of national identity than the result of one game of football. It comes with caveats, of course: some of the reduction of crime is thought to be the result of the pacification of the favelas, a process that has allegedly involved a swath of human rights violations.

Despite various safety concerns, Brazil's World Cup has only had to deal with minor incidents off the pitch.

A World Cup always presents a distorted, "sanitized" version of a country, because there are so many police -- and they are so visible -- and so many foreigners. Just because Brazil was relatively safe in June and July 2014 does not mean it will be safe in June and July 2015.

And, of course, the problems that prompted all of the demonstrations last year have not gone away.

There are still not enough schools and hospitals, and you could still make a very easy, very compelling case that the whole tournament was a quite extraordinary squandering of money that would have been better spent elsewhere. It is still one of the most uneven societies on earth. Those problems have not just disappeared because everyone has had a good time for a month.

But that does not change the fact that Brazil wanted to host the World Cup because it felt that doing so would be a powerful statement of self, an expression of its new-found confidence and capacity. In that sense, the tournament must be judged a success. The World Cup does not solve its issues; in some senses, it exacerbates them.

That was true in South Africa, too. I went back to Johannesburg in 2013, for the Africa Cup of Nations. I asked people around the country, inside and outside football, whether they were glad that they had spent all of that money on the tournament. They were, all of them. It showed them, they said, that they could do these things.

I spoke to a man called George Tsoari in Soweto. He is a coach at a football clinic there. "People used to think there were lions roaming about on the streets," he told me. I do not know where he got that idea from, but then he added, "Now they know this is a good country."

It is the same for Brazil. Now people know it is a good country, too. Even if they do not have a particularly good team.

Rory Smith

A Spanish speaker, Rory is a well-respected football writer for The Times and has previously worked for the Daily Telegraph and the Independent.