A Really Bad Hangover

The humiliating 7-1 loss to Germany had, so to speak, snapped Brazil back to reality. An intimate account of a party that was rudely disrupted

Uday Jhabvala Khare Sao Paulo 

The living room looked like it had been raided by the police. There were Brazilian flags everywhere, big ones draped on the walls, little ones you could hold in your hand, and some even shaped as hair bands.  There was enough food to feed an army and enough wine to get it drunk. But there were no people. Only our hosts were there to welcome us as we landed in Sao Paulo on that fateful night. Many had come, but midway through the first half, the party was well and truly over.

“What happened?” we asked. As non-Brazilians we somehow felt entitled to explanations.

“I don’t know,” said our normally ebullient hosts. There was a shrug of the shoulders.

There was not a lot to be said. What had happened was much, much worse than the worst that could have
been imagined.

The repercussions of Brazil’s semi-final loss to Germany are too big to be just part of the present. In 1950, the World Cup final was played in the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janerio where Brazil, the heavy favourites, lost narrowly to Uruguay and surrendered the Cup. Brazil has been living with the scars of the “Maracanazo” (literally, the “Maracana blow”) since then. Moacir Barbosa, the Brazilian goalkeeper who let in the winning goal would, for the rest of his life, be pointed out by mothers to their children as the “man who made Brazil cry”.

This World Cup was supposed to erase those scars. In a way, it did. The Maracanazo does not seem like such a big deal anymore.

The protests on some of the decisions regarding the World Cup dominated the build-up to it. The ticket prices were higher than most Brazilians could afford. The official partners, such as beer company Budweiser, were not Brazilian but imposed by FIFA. The final cost of hosting the Cup was more than four times the initial estimates. Some decisions were downright bizarre, such as the one to import construction material from Europe to build a stadium in Manaus, located in the Amazon jungle. Manaus doesn’t even have a football team. Brazilian footballers say it is too hot to play there. 

If Marcelo, our host in Salvador, is correct, the repercussions could be much worse than a footballing nightmare. According to him, the protests were hijacked and used by the Opposition parties to try and destabilise the government. Dilma Rousseff, the current president, is the successor to, and previously chief of staff of, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva or “Lula”, the incredibly popular and progressive president, who was in office from 2003 to 2011. 

“These (the opposition parties) are people who think that slavery should still exist,” Marcelo says. 

It was all so different just 10 days ago, when the party was in full swing in the FIFA Fan Fest on the beach in Fortaleza. Gonzalo Jara was about to take (and miss) the last Chilean penalty in Brazil’s pre-quarterfinal against Chile. The build-up to an opponent’s penalty kick is to raise your arms, shake your hands and make a low, ominous sound, rising in pitch till the moment the ball is kicked.   

The science of physics should perhaps come up with a term for the moment when that penalty hit the post. More than a thousand people, packed together, almost exploded. Everyone literally jumped at the same time, accompanied by a cacophony of screams, shrieks, whoops and whistles. There was one name on the back of everyone’s shirt and one name on everyone’s lips — Neymar.

Neymar enjoys genuine superstar status in Brazil. His name was chanted in stadiums during games when Brazil wasn’t even playing. It is easy to see why. He is young, good-looking, ever smiling, and conducts himself with great poise, on and off the field. But it is more than that. The rest of the team are good players but functional. They are diligent, track back and defend hard. But they won’t be able to beat a defender with a step-over. Neymar plays football like it was meant to be played — with joy. After all, it’s an oversimplification to say that Brazil likes football. Football should be “Joga Bonito”, the beautiful game.

It’s easy to see where that comes from. To the casual observer, the importance of joy flows through much of what can be seen in the country. It starts, as does everything, with breakfast. Cake is an essential part of breakfast. The traditional variety is a type of sponge cake made from corn, but you will find all sorts of cakes and puddings. For the rest of the day, fish and chicken are options, but nothing comes close to the primacy of the beef steak. A traditional Churrascaria, or steakhouse, can offer you up to 40 different cuts.

The night that Brazil beat Chile, the entire town of Fortaleza seemed to be out on the beach, eating, drinking, chatting, singing, kissing, playing and partying. Even on a normal day, a Brazilian beach comes alive in the night, when the tourists have gone. The lights come on and the entire beachfront is lit up. People are out in groups, drinking, smoking, listening to music. Kids play a game where they tie a springy rope tight between two trees, and jump on it as long as they can without touching the ground. The better ones can do backflips. The night is also the time to play football. Most beaches come equipped with posts and nets, and football games, one after the other, stretch into the distance.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: AUGUST 2014