Brazil have to face their current reality
The last time Brazil finished in fourth place, in 1974, the 1-0 loss appeared to be even more deflating than Saturday's 3-0 thrashing from the Netherlands -- especially since the team won in 1970. However, that team had the excuse of playing in West Germany.
The Seleção now once again ends the tournament as the biggest loser among the semifinalists, at least in terms of final position.
The effects from Brazil's 2014 debacle will be long-lasting.
The team never really set the tournament alight and finished with its worst defeat ever in one match (7-1 against Germany) and conceded the most goals by a host nation in the history of the competition. To rub a bit more salt, this is the leakiest Brazilian defense ever. Painful is an understatement, and the Seleção's feeble display against Holland has done nothing to help the cause.
The crowd in Brasilia expected a gutsy display and was instead given 45 minutes of horror that for some time looked to emulate Brazil's pathetic attitude in the drubbing at the hands of Germany.
Once again, they looked all over the place, and the nerve that some of the players showed in the second half made it seem like somebody was controlling them in a PlayStation game. Their World Cup ended in jeers and boos at the Mané Garrincha, a stadium named after one of the biggest Seleção legends.
Few people could ever have imagined a more melancholic ending, and the state of disarray in Brazilian football can be compared only to the hopelessness in 1974, when ironically enough the Seleção failed to score in their last two games in the competition (a 2-0 defeat to Holland and 1-0 to Poland in the third-place playoff).
You could argue that 1950 threw Brazil into years of mourning that not even their transformation into world-beaters healed properly. They have fallen horrendously from grace this time, though, and the competitive scenario looks much fiercer than 64 years ago.
Climbing back won't be a simple process and it is worrying that the players did not realize that third place was not the biggest thing at stake in Brasilia on Saturday. They could have saved some face, showed some resilience. Instead, the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) will have to build a huge couch to accommodate everybody needing counseling.
"We would like to apologize to the Brazilian people for what happened and it will be very hard for all of us to go home tonight and explain to our families that we failed," said a tearful Thiago Silva at the end of the 3-0 defeat to Louis van Gaal's men.
True, Neymar's absence was a huge blow, although it is disputable that he would have made the difference in that excruciating routing applied by Thomas Müller and his mates in Belo Horizonte.
That doesn't excuse anybody from crumbling like they did. What will look even more worrying are the signs that CBF could offer Luiz Felipe Scolari a contract extension.
Yes, the biggest loser in this shambolic campaign might end up keeping the job. Outclassed by his colleagues on and off the pitch, Big Phil might have a beautiful CV that includes a trophy that some of them might never win -- the biggest of them all in 2002. He is also the only manager to coach a team in every game possible in three World Cups. But his reputation took a massive battering at the most important moment of his 32-year coaching career.
The way Brazil capitulated at home would probably have resulted in exile for players back in 1950, and the dismissive way in which the manager has handled the shambles in 2014 so far is actually becoming insulting. The "ole" chants that followed every right pass hit by Arjen Robben and co at the Mane Garrincha in the final minutes of the agony in Brasilia showed how much the public has failed to sympathize with the Seleção's plight.
This week Brazilian news portal UOL reported Seleção sponsors have already decided to cool down their association with the team to avoid being dragged into the maelstrom. The same companies last year put 125 million dollars into the CBF coffers. Brazil have become a liability and action is urgently needed.
It is easier said than done given the particularities of the sporting structure in Brazil, where governing bodies and clubs operate in legal grey areas and CBF has enough influence to muffle any kind of proper scrutiny by the Brazilian legal system -- past attempts by congress were duly deflated thanks to a huge amount of horse-trading. This is more than just a matter of Seleção form. It is time to ditch the "we've won five times speech," and rather concentrate on the fact that Brazilian football has been badly exposed at this World Cup.
The problem was not simply that they failed to win, but that every game was marked by displays that in no way resembled what Brazilians and the world have known as their game. The excuse that the margins are narrower than ever won't stick anymore, and the sooner Brazilians admit they are in deep trouble, the better it will be for the debate.
A good amount of soul-searching will be necessary, and before somebody reminds this writer that soccer is not everything, let me remind you it is still a vital part of Brazilian identity and culture. Which is why a very possible scenario of Brazil losing relevance in this sport is such a big deal. And why it hurts so much to see the Seleção look so ordinary.
Fernando Duarte is a U.K.-based Brazilian football expert who has reported on the Selecao for over a decade. Follow him on Twitter @Fernando_Duarte.