RIO DE JANEIRO -- In the end, Brazilians at least had something to be cheerful about. Germany prevented an Argentina win that would have given their South American neighbors bragging rights for eternity.
Had Lionel Messi and his mates won the World Cup at the Maracana, the most sacred temple in Brazilian football, we would have never heard the end of it. Even before the final, the teasing was nearly unbearable throughout the tournament -- the sight of supporters celebrating Neymar's injury, for example, was quite frankly uncalled for -- but an Argentine triumph would certainly have multiplied it exponentially.
However, what it does not mean at all is that Brazilian fans have a lot to laugh about. Argentina would have been deserved winners had they capitalized on the chances they created and that were also created for them on Sunday night -- Tony Kroos' "Gerrard-esque" back pass, for example, which led to a chance for Gonzalo Higuain. There would have been no shame in seeing Argentina, with a revitalized Lionel Messi, lift a trophy they will now reach 32 years without by the time Russia 2018 rolls around.
Above all, mocking the Argentines is everything Brazil will leave this tournament with. The more attentive and less childish fans will have already remembered that the same Germany squad that steamrolled the Selecao in Belo Horizonte with insulting ease was the one pushed to the limits in Rio de Janeiro by Alejandro Sabella's men.
Men, I repeat: not the schoolboys whom the Selecao fielded last Tuesday. Argentine fans will be proud of the effort put on by a team that knew their limitations and hoped that their best player could bail them out until the end. It was just that, on Sunday, Messi couldn't after scoring half of their goals en route to the final and carrying them forward as long as humanly possible.
It will be cruel that they were so close to redeeming generations of amazing players who never got that close to the golden trophy. Germany now have won it three times since it became the biggest prize in 1974 (the previous one, the Jules Rimet, became Brazilian property when they won it for the third time four years before that). But Messi and his teammates will leave this tournament through the front door, while his Barcelona colleague Neymar has many more reasons to feel disheartened.
After years of panicked speculation, Brazil have defied expectations for the better and for the worse. The shambolic and apocalyptic scenario of a World Cup with clogged airports and alligators walking the streets turned out to be a pretty good tournament marked by scenes of jubilation on the streets and some of the tournament's most mouthwatering games in a long, long time. On the pitch, however, the hosts have been ugly. Luiz Felipe Scolari's team broke all kinds of negative records in this tournament, but nothing sounds more definite than ending the tournament having shipped 10 goals in two matches.
Argentina will leave Brazil with the sense they threw everything they could at this title, and although sometimes it was hardly pretty, they could have won it in Rio with a bit more luck and a better finisher than Higuain. They indeed have a problem with rejuvenating a squad averaging 28.5 years of age, but as long as Messi keeps being Messi and supporting acts like Sergio Aguero and Angel di Maria follow suit, they nurture many more promising thoughts than their more successful neighbors. Argentina should be received like heroes in Buenos Aires and there's little doubt they will. Meanwhile, the memories for the Selecao will be boos and humiliation.
Argentina fans have also been exemplary in this World Cup. Forget the minority of thugs who created some problems in stadiums and in Brazilian cities. They were, in general, a passionate army that taught Brazilians a lesson or two in supporting their national team. It was necessary for Brazilian fans to steal a song or two from their counterparts to finally ditch some of the most squalid chants one could hear in a stadium.
So, my friends, who is the real loser here? The team that left their souls on the pitch or the one that capitulated so spectacularly? With a mixture of messianic tones and desperation disguised as bravado, Big Phil's team crashed and burned in a way that put their 1950 final defeat in Rio in perspective.
Bouncing back could now be the biggest challenge in the history of the Selecao, and the sense of uneasiness is rife around the country, no matter how proud Brazilians are that their tournament succeeded. Visiting fans will leave this country with changed perceptions and hopefully more knowledge than the stereotypes that for too long circulated abroad. In this sense, this will be a great legacy.
But our second hosting of the tournament has ironically delivered warning signs that Brazil's place in the biggest scheme of things in the footballing world has never been under more scrutiny. That looks much more problematic than a defeat in extra time in a final that could have gone either way. Instead of mocking those who went down with a fight, we should admire that they were able to stay tight and almost find glory.
So, for those who are still giggling about Argentina's loss: are there really any reasons for us to be laughing? Because I just feel like crying.