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Brazil's latest World Cup failure still feels like progress after 2014 debacle

ESPN's Charlie Gibson tours Brazil's hotel and all of its amenities, but unfortunately the Selecao are heading home after a quarterfinal defeat to Belgium.

A Brazil elimination in a World Cup is never an ordinary event. With a Selecao exit comes an avalanche of grief, soul-searching and copious amounts of drama. Few other top footballing nations would have a famous commentator ranting on about the political and economical situation of the country -- like TV Globo's Galvao Bueno did after Brazil's 2-1 defeat to Belgium on Friday night -- in the process of analysing what went wrong on the pitch.

"Our country is going through serious problems, and a World Cup victory wouldn't make it better. It's a sad moment, but no 7-1."

Ah, that score. Four years after that calamitous night in Belo Horizonte, Brazil's heaviest defeat lingers on, but this time, as a weird kind of solace. Brazil may have failed for the fourth time in a row to win the World Cup and, in a crude analysis, regressed in comparison to the last tournament that saw them reach the semifinals. But the lack of humiliation brought a cocktail of pride and resignation, and nobody is sure in which proportions it was mixed.

Marcelo, for example, saw the glass to be empty, as if it had been left outside overnight in dry and hot weather.

"In my opinion [the defeat to Belgium] hurts as much as the 7-1 did. Last night was horribly painful. There is no way to explain how it feels to exit a World Cup," he said in the Kazan Arena mixed zone after Friday's defeat.

His thoughts are understandable. Despite just turning 30 this year, the Real Madrid left-back is one of the players of the 2014 generation who could have said goodbye to the Selecao after the defeat to Belgium. In Marcelo's case, it remains uncertain if his body can stand up to the rigors of another World Cup cycle.

In fact, of the Brazil XI most used by Tite at the World Cup, one could expect that Alisson, Casemiro, Gabriel Jesus, Phillipe Coutinho and Neymar would be back in Qatar in four years' time based on age criteria. Roberto Firmino, Ederson and Fred are others. Jesus, who managed to become the first Brazilian No. 9 since 1966 to leave a World Cup without scoring a goal, first needs to deal with the shock of becoming one of the villains of the Selecao's failure.

"I try to take lessons from every tournament I play in life, but I am actually afraid of what can happen. It's complicated to think of what I will think of myself. It's like someone took a piece of my flesh away," muttered the 21-year-old, Brazil's youngest-ever centre-forward at a World Cup.

Tite and Brazil did fail in Russia this summer but return home with a relief that they didn't embarrass themselves.
Tite and Brazil did fail in Russia this summer but return home with a relief that they didn't embarrass themselves.

The irony is that players seemed more shocked than the fans. It's not that they didn't bombard commentary sections and players' social media accounts: Jesus, for instance, could do with a break from Instagram for a couple of days. A couple of hours after the match, Kazan's bars and nightclubs were full of yellow shirts sipping drinks and even singing songs, chanting for space hero Yuri Gagarin and shouting "Spasibo, Rossiya" were crowd favourites.

"Of course we are sad, but it was a hell of a game and the team fought till the end. Thibaut Courtois saved everything and prevented us from coming back. If you think of what happened four years ago, I think we can take something positive from this World Cup," said Henrique, a Sao Paulo-based financial analyst, while queuing for the security screening at Kazan's airport.

Manager Tite, the 23 players and the technical staff were the exceptions to the rule. The night the Selecao spent in Kazan before boarding a chartered flight to Sao Paulo must have been tough for all involved. They were forgiven for thinking they could have gone further in the tournament given the solid results Brazil showed in the two years since Tite picked up a team outside the qualification spots in South American World Cup qualifying and made them, and the fans, dream again.

It was refreshing that Brazilians gave more attention to Belgium's merits in the quarterfinal results than any controversy surrounding a penalty call for Vincent Kompany's challenge on Gabriel Jesus. Yes, there was a little moaning but much less than expected.

The same can be said about Tite's future. News that the Brazilian Football Confederation wants to offer him a four-year deal was warmly received by pundits and experts alike despite the criticism to tactical and personnel decisions. "Tite made punctual mistakes, but his work with the Selecao has been excellent. We should not worship him, but he should stay [in the job]," wrote Brazil legend Tostao in his Folha de S Paulo newspaper column right after the match.

In comparison to previous postmortem processes, the subdued tone is a sign that Brazil are not losing their minds despite the pain of elimination.

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.

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