sad-brazil-fanI don’t normally blog about soccer but the unprecedented events of last night throws up issues that go beyond the so-called ‘beautiful game’.

Brazil’s astonishing 7-1 world cup defeat at the hands of a merciless German team was nothing short of a disaster not only for the team and the nation but also for the corporate interests behind the orchestration of this sporting event.

The hope, and expectation, was always that the home country would triumph so that it would end in one gigantic Samba street party.

The massive expenditure needed to stage such global happenings are enough to potentially bankrupt even the richest countries. The huge investment in the construction of soon to be redundant stadiums and facilities can only be justified if they bring wealth to the country in the form of sponsorship deals or increased tourism.

Anti-government demonstrations against high taxes, poor services and political corruption have been violently quelled leading up to the tournament and Brazil’s ignoble exit will only serve to reignite the debate about these spiralling costs.

It was notable how Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff , along with FIFA chief Sepp Blatter, kept a diplomatically low profile during the opening ceremony at the Ataquera Area of Sao Paulo. Neither of then made speeches for fear of being booed in the stadium and I doubt that will be any more conspicuous at Sunday’s final.

The public presentation of the World Cup has been that of the world’s nations coming together in a spirit of joy and harmony to celebrate a unique sporting spectacle. In the coverage of the matches, TV directors have been at pains to pick out shiny happy faces and colourful costumes of enthusiastic fans. Young children and pretty women are especially popular. The escalation of these images and shots of crowds doing Mexican waves often gives the impression that what happens on the pitch is peripheral. All this changed last night. If there were partying German supporters in the stadium (and why wouldn’t there be?) the networks didn’t show them, presumably on the basis that this would have been akin to showing revellers at a funeral. The directors picked out a few of Brazilians in tears, painted faces contorted in agony, but kept this public display of grief to a minimum.

christintearsOne of the major problems facing the Brazilian soccer team is that there is no way to put a positive spin on such a devastating scoreline. It cannot be explained away by bad luck or poor refereeing. To put this result into context, Brazil had not previously lost on home soil since 1975 and this is far and away the worst defeat by a major team at this level.

Some may point to losing poster boy Neymar through injury and captain Thiago Silva through suspension but the absence of two star players alone cannot excuse the scale of the defeat. It was simply the case that inept defending and poor attacking play exposed the team’s weaknesses in a way that was not pretty to watch. As a spectacle, the game was effectively over after 25 minutes when, having conceded 5 goals, it was then just a question of damage limitation. Germany were as well-drilled and efficient as ever but even they seemed embarrassed by the ease with which they scored. At the end of the match the German players lined up to console Brazilian manager Scolari like they were paying their respects to a grieving father.

Brazilian coach Scolari explains what went wrong

Brazilian coach Scolari explains what went wrong

Coming into last night’s match, Germany had been taken to task in the press for grinding out narrow victories and being boring to watch. ‘Would you rather we play well and lose?’ has been the essence of the response to such criticism. While neutrals would prefer to see high scoring, free-flowing games, coaches and players know very well that the ends justify the means even if this means winning by adopting negative tactics.

Business interests behind the staging of the World Cup have a strong influence on how games are played. Sponsors love winners and, ultimately, it doesn’t really matter how entertaining the matches are. The minnows of Costa Rica proved can that massing 10 men behind the ball means that a team of relative unknowns can frustrate higher quality opposition and in the wake of the thrashing of Brazil this style of play is more likely to become the norm.

So now the carnivals have been cancelled, the Brazilian nation is in mourning and when the dust has settled it may be that the nature of this defeat will have wider consequences. The party-pooping Germans broke the hearts of Brazilian fans and in so doing have unwittingly opened a can of worms.

Losing narrowly is tolerable but becoming a public embarrassment is a much harder sell. Ultimately, soccer as a money-spinning spectacle functions best when at its most predictable and Brazil’s epic fail is therefore catastrophic both for the sport and for market forces as a whole.

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