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Aftershocks: The Night Brazil’s World Cup Dreams Fell To Their Foundations

In the first of our eight-part ‘Aftershocks’ series, Jordan Norris revisits the biggest upsets in the history of the World Cup – looking at both the immediate fall-out and what emerged in the aftermath.

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Background

The FIFA World Cup is as big as it gets when it comes to the sport of football.

For Brazil, World Cup glory had become something of the norm over the course of recent history – but when it came to their turn to host the tournament in 2014, expectations were at an all-time high for Luis Felipe Scolari to repeat a past trick, when he guided the Selecao to a fifth crown at the 2002 edition in South Korea & Japan.

The side Scolari had guided twelve years previous possessed some of the greatest players to ever grace the football field – namely Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and Roberto Carlos. 

This time around, the hopes of an entire nation laid upon the shoulders of one man above all – a then 22-year-old Neymar.

The skilful forward had just completed his debut campaign at Barcelona – scoring 15 goals in an impressive opening campaign, but still longing to add silverware to a promising beginning, the perfect opportunity coming with his country. 

Having been developed within the Santos Youth Academy and adopting a similar style of play – many began to create early comparisons between Neymar and Brazilian legend Pele – who won three World Cups, single-handedly firing his country to their first triumph in 1958 at the ripe age of just 17.

The shadow of Pele and his legacy had loomed largely over the shoulders of many Brazilian sides throughout the years – but never before in the modern era had they had the opportunity to take on the opposition on home soil.  
It was 1950 when the Maracanã last played host to the World Cup final – where Brazil fell on home soil 2-1 to Uruguay in the final, in front of almost 200,000 people. That result was seen as somewhat of a national tragedy.

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World Cup 2014

Scolari’s army went into the 2014 tournament among the favourites for the title – despite Spain having won the 2008 and 2012 European Championships, as well as the 2010 World Cup, in their golden era. However, the tournament did not go to plan for the Spaniards, as they were on the end of a 5-1 drubbing from Holland in their opening match, before going down 2-0 to Chile in their second and thus being eliminated at the group stage despite being reigning champions. 

Many could be forgiven for thinking that everything was playing into Brazil’s hands nicely, especially given how well Neymar had handled the pressure upon his young shoulders.

June 12th, 2014 saw the Selecao take to the field in a World Cup game on home soil for the first time in 64 years as they took on Croatia in Group A. 

Having gone behind early on, the Brazilians staged a spirited fightback, with Neymar scoring both the equaliser and then putting his country into the lead, before Oscar rounded off the victory to treat an adoring crowd of 62,000 to a 3-1 victory and the perfect start to their predicted ascension.

Brazil’s second group game however – may have been the one to cast doubts, with the Brazilians failing to break down Mexico despite their dominance in Fortaleza and playing out a stalemate. 

Victory against Cameroon would still secure top spot in the group and set up a round-of-16 date with South American rivals Chile.

The crowd in Brasilia roared on their heroes, and as expected – Neymar gave his country the lead early on, only for the men in yellow to be pegged back by a goal from Joel Matip, and question marks arose over the capability of the Brazilian defence – given they had only kept one clean sheet in the group stages. 

On an attacking front however, the Selecao were more than capable, as Neymar added his and Brazil’s second before half-time, before Fred and Fernandinho sealed a 4-1 win securing their passage to the knockout stage.

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Knockout Stages

Spain, England, and Italy were among some high-profile names to be eliminated at the group stage. The likes of Holland, Argentina, and Germany were still there to provide a stern test to their title credentials – but Chile were also to prove a challenge.

Belo Horizonte was the destination for their toughest game to date – an early goal from David Luiz doing plenty to help settle the nerves of a nation, but it was far from plain sailing from there. 

Alexis Sanchez equalised for Chile before half-time, before the tie dissipated into a drab affair destined for extra time. However, it was the Chileans who took the game to the hosts – who were forced to show a defensive resilience many believed they lacked and had the woodwork to thank in the dying seconds for denying Mauricio Pinilla the chance to eliminate them.

It was an unlikely hero who came to the fore for Brazil – goalkeeper Julio Cesar. The QPR stopper – who was largely blamed for their exit from the 2010 tournament, saved two penalties as Brazil scraped through to a quarter-final clash with Colombia.

A nation of 200 million people bit their nails and held their breaths, but character and luck prevailed – and it seemed almost destiny that 2014 would be Brazil’s year once again.

Colombia came to the Estadio Castelão with the form player of the tournament in James Rodriguez, who had found the net five times so far, and dare say even outshone Neymar with the world watching. 

Again, it was an early goal which put Brazil on the front foot, a header from captain Thiago Silva. Brazil pushed and pushed in a cagey encounter and were rewarded when David Luiz made it 2-0 with a stunning long-range free kick, side-footing the ball over the wall and past David Ospina, booking Brazil’s place in the last four for the first time since 2002, and deeming Rodriguez’s late penalty a mere consolation in the process.

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World Cup Semi-Finalists

It was old rivals Germany who Brazil would take on for a place in the World Cup Final – but tragedy struck in the dying moments of their clash with Colombia, arguably altering the fate of a nation which seemed destined for greatness. 

With two minutes of normal time remaining, Neymar was kneed into the back by Camilo Zuniga and left the field on a stretcher. Tests revealed a fractured vertebra, and if Brazil were to lift the Jules Rimet Trophy, they would be forced to do so without their poster boy.

Argentina, Germany and Holland had all scraped through to the semi-finals. Argentina and Germany securing 1-0 wins over Belgium and France respectively, while Holland were brought to penalties by minnows Costa Rica. 
The ball was in Brazil’s court, but without Neymar it seemed as if they had no one to lead the charge, and their ascension to glory fell apart in truly spectacular fashion.

With 29 minutes on the clock in Belo Horizonte, Brazil trailed 5-0. Thomas Muller, Miroslav Klose, Toni Kroos (2), and Sami Khedira had all found the net, and Brazil’s dreams had not just fallen apart – but crumbled to their very foundations, beyond the realms of repair.

It would only get worse; Andre Schurrle adding two second half goals to make it 7-0, Oscar scoring with seconds left to make it 7-1, the Germans looking almost embarrassed to have conceded to a team of Brazil’s meekness.

This was a tragedy the likes of which the nation had never experienced. Embarrassed in their own back garden. Records began to tumble – the first time Brazil had been beaten competitively on home soil in 39 years, which also occurred at the Estadio Mineirão – there was questions of a curse. 

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The Aftershock

A record defeat for a host nation, Brazil’s joint-worst ever defeat and Miroslav Klose taking the crown of the World Cup’s greatest ever goalscorer off of Brazil’s son Ronaldo. The after-effects have been felt for years. Germany went on to be champions, Brazil went on in mourning of their own incapabilities.

A 3-0 defeat to Holland in the third-place play-off saw Luis Felipe Scolari resign and, unlike the 1950 ‘Maracanaço’, which was a national tragedy thought to symbolise Brazil’s failure as a people, the 2014 ‘Mineirazo’ was seen by most as merely a tragicomic farce.

Rather than appoint a foreign manager, Brazil – like with Scolari, turned their eye to the past and appointed a former manager once more in Dunga. Knockout to Paraguay at the 2015 Copa America quarter-finals as well as a group-stage exit at the 2017 edition in a group consisting of Haiti, Peru and Ecuador meant unprecedented embarrassment – and bye-bye Dunga for the second time.

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World Cup 2018

Brazil now go to Russia under the guidance of Tite, but as a country not to be feared – but one devoid of both confidence and prowess. Many previously fanatical supporters now believe their country has nothing to offer world football – and largely as a result of one night in Belo Horizonte.
Their game needs a so-called Germanization – and now common mishaps receive an utterance of ‘Gol Da Alemanha’ – Goal for Germany.

Sete a um (7-1) now means metaphor for a crushing defeat, and until Brazil lift the trophy for a sixth time – one would imagine it is an embarrassment from which the country will struggle to recover from, sportingly and culturally.

2018 offers a chance for redemption, but there is now an expectation of tragedy to strike twice. Time will tell whether or not it fortifies their strength in Russia or weakens them even further.

Jordan Norris, Pundit Arena.

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Author: Jordan Norris

Mostly covering football and GAA - Jordan is currently studying a BA English in UCC, and can be contacted through [email protected] .