What promised so much delivered nothing but abject misery. Brazil's World Cup ended in absolute disaster, as ESPNFC blogger Jack Lang picks through the bones of a desperate campaign.
One-sentence World Cup recap
Muller, Klose, Kroos, Kroos, Khedira, Schurrle, Schurrle -- who needs verbs?
All team assessments
Group Stage: Australia | Bosnia-Herzegovina | Cameroon | Croatia | Ecuador | England | Ghana | Honduras | Italy | Iran
Ivory Coast | Japan | Portugal | Russia | South Korea | Spain
Round of 16: Algeria | Chile | Greece | Mexico
Nigeria | Switzerland | Uruguay | United States
Quarterfinals: Colombia | France | Belgium | Costa Rica
Semifinals: Brazil | Netherlands
Only two players leave the tournament with any great credit. Goalkeeper Julio Cesar was influential in the victory over Chile, putting his 2010 World Cup nightmare behind him at last with two saves in the dramatic penalty shootout.
Brazil's only true star, though, was Neymar. He scored four times in three group games, dragging Brazil to the knockout stages while his fellow attackers huffed and puffed. He did not have quite the same impact in the round of 16 or the quarterfinal win over Colombia, but it was nonetheless upsetting when he was ruled out of Brazil's final two games. He would not have prevented defeat against Germany but undoubtedly deserved the chance to appear in what would have been the biggest game of his career to date.
In a World Cup in which Brazil never managed to put together 90 minutes of their best football, we must look to fleeting moments for joy. There was Oscar's intuitive toe poke in the win over Croatia, Neymar's gorgeous second goal against Cameroon and subsequent double chapéu dribble, Thiago Silva's brief redemption against Colombia and David Luiz's unstoppable free-kick. Cut clips of those moments together and you will have a highlight reel that could trick an unsuspecting viewer into thinking Brazil had a good tournament.
Deep breath, and ... Jose Maria Marin saying Brazil would "go to hell" if they didn't win the World Cup; the tepid start against Croatia, which set the tone for the rest of the campaign; the performance vs. Mexico; Paulinho; the emotional instability visible in the Chile match; Thiago Silva's stupid booking against Colombia; Juan Zuniga's challenge on Neymar; Fred; the defending against Germany; Luiz Felipe Scolari thinking it was acceptable to blame a mental "blackout" for the 7-1 loss; David Luiz's positional sense; the utter lack of anything resembling a midfield.
The Mineiraco, for all its numbing unreality, must serve to spark much-needed change in the Brazilian game. While Scolari will receive most of the flak for his side's failings, there are far deeper, structural problems holding the Selecao back, including corrupt, inept federation chiefs and a lack of funding and planning for youth development. While European nations like Spain and Germany are streaking ahead on the back of painstaking long-term planning, Brazilian football seems content to lurch from one week to the next, playing in front of half-full stadiums and paying its players when they complain.
There is only one worry: Right-minded people have been making this point for years and nothing has come to pass. There are those for whom the status quo is perfectly comfortable, thank you, and only when they are systematically removed will progress be made.