When Brazilian soccer star Neymar suffered a back injury during the World Cup quarter final against Colombia, people were saddened and worried about the 24-year-old striker and his prognosis. Doctors declared he had fractured a vertebrae and that he would be unable to continue playing in the tournament.
While everyone knew Neymar was a key player for this seleção, no one could have foreseen his absence would break the canary squad's spine and paralyze his teammates during their remaining two games on the field.
The first evidence of this was seen last Tuesday, when Brazil lost 7-1 to Germany during the semifinal in Belo Horizonte. Following the first goal by Miroslav Klose, coach Luiz Felipe Scolari's team looked discombobulated. By the time he made his second goal in the 23rd minute, the Lazio striker had broken the home team's spirits and Ronaldo Fenomeno's record for most World Cup goals (Ronaldo had been the leader since 2002 with fifteen goals, Klose currently has sixteen goals).
Ronaldo and the 2002 squad were also the last ones to win a World Cup title for the South American giant, adding a fifth trophy to its collection. The team was also lead by Scolari and their rival in Yokohama was also Germany.
Despite all these similarities, things could not have gone any differently during the July 8th match. By the end of the first half, Germany had already scored five goals. The other two were made within minutes of the second half. Fans in and outside of the stadium were horrified and shocked. It was the worst loss in semi-final history and one of the largest defeats ever suffered by a Brazilian national team.
"I am stunned," Ronaldo said, who is now a color-commentator for TV Globo. "The way that Brazil played, the way we took the goals, the way we were eliminated. It is a very sad day for Brazilian football."
The local press has now referred to the event as the Mineratzen. For a country that still mourns the 2-1 loss to Uruguay during the 1950 Brazil World Cup, known as the Maracanazo, the dramatic defeat will not soon be forgotten.
Still, the players lifted themselves off the ground, wiped off their tears and left the field with their sights set for third place. David Luiz, who was stepping in as captain for the suspended Thiago Silva, said he was sorry during the post-match press conference.
"I want to apologize to everyone, to all the Brazilians. I just wanted to see my people smile. We all know how important it was to see the country happy because of football," Luiz said.
In Brazil, soccer is not a hobby or a pastime, it is a passion. It is ingrained in every aspect of society, and affects people like a drug or disease. It is even influential on the language, where soccer terms are used in everyday speech as popular expressions. When Brazil took the field during this World Cup, businesses closed and holidays were declared in the host cities. It was considered a time to be with family and friends and gather in support of the team. One of the main cheers heard throughout the tournament in Portuguese was:
"I am Brazilian, with much pride and love."
Despite the torcida’s frustration with their golden boys, many still rallied behind their team. They defended them over social networks and awaited their performance in the third place match in Brasilia.
As the team took the field, the fans in Mane Garrincha arena gave them a standing ovation and sang the anthem with them. Their spirits had been fractured, but not broken. They still expected to see their players show some backbone.
Within two minutes, the Dutch squashed any third place illusions. With a penalty kick into Julio Cesar’s net, the clockwork orange ultimately ended Brazil’s 2014 campaign with a 3-0 placard in the nation's capital. The “prideful” and “joyful” fans booed their players as they left the field.
Ever since Neymar’s departure, the 23 members of the Brazilian national team have fallen apart vertebrae by vertebrae. While this loss may not affect the outcome of the upcoming presidential elections or the economy, it will affect this country’s spirit which was already fractured in the lead up to this Cup. Claims of corruption and mismanagement of funds by FIFA and local politicians had led a protest movement to form and people fed up with poor health services and insecurity rose up and took to the streets.
In order to avoid feeling the sting of the loss, which is only made worse with the salt of rival Argentina classifying to the Maracana final Sunday, Brazilians have resigned themselves to the results and accepted it with good humor and feigned indifference.
“I think it’s better to really lose than for it to come down to penalties,” one fan told me. “At least that way we know we REALLY lost and are not clinging on to false hope."
While these coping methods may help ease the pain, they will not fix the spine of Brazilian football. The weight on this particular team was too great to bear and the pressure left them bent into an unrecognizable shape. In order to straighten up and walk onto the field again as the proud pentacampeões, fragments of the malignant tumors must be removed beginning with the team's head: Luiz Felipe Scolari. As we look ahead to Russia 2018, the seleção needs to return to its roots and remind itself of the jogo bonito of Kaka, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho that made them famous around the world. The country's loyal fans deserve to stand on their own two feet once again and restore the "pride" and "love" that were fractured during their party at home.