8 July 2014, 2014 FIFA World Cup Semi-Final, Mineirão Stadium, Brazil:
Brazil 1-7 Germany
Pele, Garrincha, Carlos Alberto Torres, Socrates, Zico, Bebeto, Romario, Roberto Carlos, Cafu, Rivaldo, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho… Neymar
Kroos, Muller, Klose, Ozil, Schweinsteiger, Khedira…
I watched this match at a family friend’s house I had only been to once before. By way of being brought up in a Brazilian household, I was a superstitious teenager. There was no way I would be content watching a monumental match on a giant TV I was entirely estranged to. It’s like deeply displeasing a child when you divulge to them the fact that the ice cream van has departed from the park, despite your promises. It’s not fair at all. Itt was raining that day too in Rio de Janeiro (the city I was in for that game).
I once liked David Luiz. Adored him. I once bought a David Luiz wig at the Chelsea megastore after he was being lauded for important goals against Man City and Man United in his first season (while Torres remained on zero goals). After Oscar scored a brace against Juventus in late 2012, one of which was a screamer, David Luiz approached Oscar during his goal celebrations. He pointed to the East Stand at Stamford Bridge, where a young fan triumphantly waved a Brazil flag. As he came out for half time, he ‘geezer’ gestured at the young fan. That young fan was me, obviously.
Now, all I remember him for is a dismal performance- was that a performance? how can one perform if one fails to entertain in any sense?- and for tears that are not at all synonymous with what you imagine to be virile or valiant. I just wanted to be able to give ‘alegria‘ to my people, he said.
Before I even begin to attempt to rationalise the improbable events on that day, to attempt to reason for something that remains indescribably painful and inexplicable, I must thank Germany. Although Klose beat Ronaldo’s goal record on that day, which will not easily be forgiven for by many, I think that many Brazilians are grateful that they chose not to score many, many more goals on the day, further humiliating the high-flying egos of the supposed Titans of World Football. So, thanks.
Nothing more needs to be said of the details of what happened.
It’s difficult for me to even think about that game without getting upset. I am not sure I will ever fully understand why 7-1 happened. I will try to:
I reckon you can’t imagine Scolari without a moustache. It’s impossible.
He was appointed in a time when Brazilian football was at serious risk in the face of two consecutive home tournaments. Brazil had been knocked out by a header from a 5’7″ player named Sneijder in the 2010 World Cup, and had failed in the pursuit of a first Olympic gold medal in football in 2012. Scolari (the World Cup winning manager in 2002) and Parreira (the World Cup winning manager in 1994) came in as CBF’s handymen, striving to bring back success. Scolari was used to this. Brazil were struggling in the 2002 World Cup qualifying until Scolari came in and worked his magic. The Brazilian media were dancing in joy. Globo Esporte, the equivalent of say a BBC Sport or Sky Sports, published an article reminiscing his 2002 victory in celebration. There were no doubts of his expertise. There was hope of a new ‘Scolari family’. To the players, he was known as a fatherly figure. In fact, as manager of Brazil’s football team in a time they would soon play the first World Cup at home since 1950 (and we all know how that ended), he probably commanded a more significant post than that of the president of Brazil. Scolari was the man chosen to deliver happiness and hope. He was meant to be the real Alexander The Great, someone to conquer and bring hope.
In 2002, he supposedly gave his players a copy of Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’ (I struggle to believe many of the players from a working class background will have read this book). Scolari believed in motivation, in a fighting mentality. He wanted to create heroes. It is unfair to take away 2002’s success from him, but the players he created in 2014 are probably more like curses keeping true beauty hidden somewhere unfound. In other words, the team from 2014 might have not lost 7-1 had they gone in to the game with a bit less swelling, vigorous desires.
The focus on emotions for 2014, quite simply, was too excessive. When facing Low’s calculated and cerebral Germans, excessive passion is easily exploited.
In November 2012, German newspaper Die Welt ironically mentioned Brazil legend Carlos Alberto (with headlines on Die Welt as ‘Brazil Go Back into the Future’). Carlos Alberto criticised the appointment of Scolari: “I don’t know whether this is Felipao’s moment. He won in 2002- but that was 2002! This year he bombed out at Palmeiras.”
And he ‘bombed out’ at Chelsea and Uzbekistan club Bunyodkor too.
After doing fairly well with Portugal up until 2008, he joined Chelsea. I don’t think many will have great memories of him there. After a poor run of results, which included my first experience of football agony in a 0-0 draw with Hull City at home, he was sacked. His career took a dip as he moved on to Bunyodkor, the kind of place you just find embarrassing for a manager like Scolari to go to. He went there for money, but didn’t last a year there either. He might as well have retired.
Okay. It’s true he then won a Copa do Brasil with Palmeiras.
My point is that he became a notoriously weak manager in the lead up to his return as Brazil manager.
Then came the Confederations Cup, a sort of glorified friendly International Champions Cup for nations. I must say that Brazilians take any trophy, no matter how small or big, very seriously (Flamengo, for example, include the ‘Florida Cup 2019’ in a long list of honours won by the club). Brazil won it, and excitement was higher than ever before in the country. It was probably the best football I have seen Brazil play in my entire life. I confess I was a part of the over-hyping as an 11 year old. I was young and innocent with respect to the exposure of extreme disappointment in football, but it doesn’t meant that I feel terribly ashamed of it still now.
The false sense of hope was created by victories over sides such as Spain, Italy and Japan. They all severely under-performed in the real thing a year later.
Brazil’s ego was towering into the highest skies, but it was flimsy. In the 2013/14 season, Hulk played in a degenerate Russian league, the 1.64m-tall Bernard was enjoying his easy life in Ukraine, but Fred was a player with a huge reputation as a killer goalscorer in the Brazilian league. Yet, it was the Brazilian league (no offence to readers who enjoy watching the Brazilian league).
The quality was not there offensively, but it is unfair to focus on bad attacking players when the problem lies with the defence.
When we think about great defences, we think of the sides Italy has produced. The great football manager Helenio Herrera, who adopted the defensive tactical system known as ‘catenaccio’ for Inter in the 60s, says ‘I merely implemented things that were later copied by every single club: hard work, perfectionism, physical training, diets, and three days of concentration before every game.’ It does not take a ground-breaking philosopher to know that defenders need extreme concentration in the lead up to an important football game. I just needed to include Herrera there to provide support for understanding the importance of the defence in football, and because I felt that he deserves a mention on this blog more generally.
Anyway, the game before, as everyone will remember, was the match where Neymar got knee-stabbed in the back by Colombian player Zuñiga. All media attention was on this. The world had fallen upon its head. The average Brazilian person would have probably forgotten that they had just beaten Colombia and reached the World Cup semi final. Even if you think that is taking it too far, it would probably be fair to say that morale was suddenly crushed, due to one single player. Sure, Neymar was probably the only player with world class quality in that team. Yet, the reaction to his injury was irrational. I will never forget when news articles speculated that he had the potential to play in a World Cup final on injections, despite his near career-ending injury.
The players walked in to the Minerão wearing ‘Força Neymar’ caps. This decision was later criticised by the newly appointed CBF general coordinator after the World Cup , as it ‘killed’ them. During the national anthem, players were crying, holding Neymar’s shirt. Why was it all about Neymar, this sort of modern day martyr who was not dead? This war mentality just spiralled out of control. Looking back, it is plainly silly for someone to have even decided for players to wear these caps and hold Neymar’s shirt. The necessity of concentration was non existent in the psyche of reckless players like David Luiz. I suppose the players were performing, but not in a football match. They were performers in a spectacular circus.
If everyone wanted to focus so much on a player’s absence, the captain Thiago Silva was the man. He, however, was most reckless of all. In the quarter against Colombia, he kicked a ball away in frustration, earning himself a yellow card, suspending himself from the semi final. Cherry on the cake.
My emotions have certainly overshadowed, or rather tainted, my rationalising of this monumental occurrence. There may be no reason for why this happened. This may just be an idle attempt at creating excuses for the defeat. This article just be a platform from which I am able release my emotion and thoughts in a coherent manner, despite arguably sounding totally incoherent to you. I am not sure I feel wiser after writing this article, or just entrenched in greater despair. I suppose I will never know. Rationalising bizarre occurrences as these might be an enjoyable waste of time. It might leave me stuck begging for more unanswerable answers.
All I know is that David Luiz has created a formidably absurd legacy. So has Scolari. Bernard, Fred, Dante, Fernandinho, even Marcelo. So has my family friend’s apartment. And the deceiving media. And hope ignited by past memories. I don’t trust unfamiliar places. I don’t trust in the transient and fleeting perfect moments. Nor do I trust in heroes. All excitement resulted in 7-1.
So, Brazil. This country that dazzles the world when in other territories, winning in Sweden, Chile, Mexico, USA and Japan. The country that mystifies the eye with flamboyant skills. Yet, it is also the country that famously crumbles when playing at home. Hollow at the core.
To this day, I still have people approach me with a story about how they went to the toilet when it was 1-0, and how it was 4-0 once they had come back. I bet you’ve heard someone come up with that (fake) story as well. To those who do say that: why are you going to the toilet mid game? Is a World Cup semi final not worth your time? Is this game a waste of time for you?
I think they might be right, though. Football really is hard to watch sometimes.
Image credit: artselisonmorais0 on pixabay