Friday, July 11, 2014

Daze and humiliation: the Brazil vs. Germany game

By Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl) (em português)
July 10, 2014

The semi-finals game between Brazil and Germany on July 8th in the big stadium in Belo Horizonte was a deserved victory for the German team and a crushing and shameful Brazilian defeat. Millions were in the squares and streets of every city. The atmosphere of euphoria of the Brazilians -- most adorned in yellow and green, the national colors -- could not tolerate, or even imagine, such humiliation. And it struck like a thunderbolt out of the blue.

I see two basic reasons for the final result of 7-1 goals in Germany's favor. The Germans, like other European teams, have renewed their strategies and ways of playing soccer. They have invested, in my view, in three basic areas: Careful physical conditioning of the players to gain great endurance and speed, second, preparing individual superstars who can play in any position and run across the field, and finally creating a great sense of togetherness. Excellent players who do not wish to demonstrate their individual performance but know how to integrate themselves, forming a cohesive group, become strong favorites in any competition. Not that they are invincible, because we saw that, playing against the United States, the German team had great difficulty winning. But these qualities were the secret of the German victory over Brazil.

The big issue was the Brazilian team. Almost a national consensus was created that we are the home of soccer, we are the winners of five World Cups, we have the king, Pele, and exceptional players like Neymar and others. The corporate media and supporting agencies created the myth of the "World Cup Player," elevated to hero and almost a demigod. This atmosphere of euphoria tended by marketing by big supporting businesses, eventually spread to the popular mentality. We might lose, but just barely. But for the vast majority, victory was almost certain, more so because the games were taking place in our own country.

This generalized euphoria did not prepare the population for what is inherent in sports: victory or defeat or a draw. Most could never imagine or even dream that we could experience such a humiliating defeat. Victory was celebrated in advance. A serious mistake, largely induced by media hype and euphoria, orchestrated by a famous TV network and its commentators.

But there was also a painful error on the part of the Brazilian coaching commission. Because of our glorious past, it thought it was the master to the point of pretending to teach others what soccer ought to be. It sat on the glories of the past. It didn't renew itself.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Europe, especially in Germany and Spain but also in Latin America like in Colombia and Costa Rica, a new understanding of soccer was developing. New tactics and ways to distribute the positions of the players in the field were created. The Brazilian coaching staff did not avail themselves of any of this, particularly their coach Luis Felipe Scolari (known as Felipão). He is a fatherly figure, stern and tender at the same time, loved by the players and generally respected by the public. But he is stubborn and persistent in his formulas, good for the past, but inadequate and questionable for the present. He did not realize that the world of soccer had profoundly changed while it was being worked on outside of Brazil.

He didn't achieve two things and that allows us to understand the wretched failure of the Brazilian team. Scolari didn't quell the traditional exaggerated individualism of the players. Each one wanted to demonstrate his good performance, wanted to give his own private show, in view of possibly being contracted by large foreign teams. Secondly, he failed to create a cohesive group with team spirit. The games should put the emphasis on the group and then the specific qualities of each player. He left the players dispersed. They created unacceptable voids in the middle of the field. They were unable to cover the main stars of the opposing team.

The Germans realized this structural weakness of the Brazilian team. They knew how to exploit it skillfully. Within the first minutes, they had already scored the first goal and 29 minutes into the first half, it was already 5-0.

This soccer disaster created a kind of breakdown in the Brazilian team. It was totally bewildered. Its serenity in the face of difficulties faltered and it allowed itself to become disoriented. The coach himself, Felipão Scolari, was unable to make the necessary substitutions. These occurred only in the second half.

The game seemed a contest between a working class suburban team and an international level team. This was not the soccer we have always known. The leaders, locked in their pride, didn't want to learn anything from others. We lost through arrogance and ignorance.

If we had had 11 Neymars on the field without a cohesive and orderly group, the result would have been no different. We lost because we played badly, and we played badly because we didn't take advantage of the new things being tested outside of Brazil. And we didn't form a cohesive and versatile group.

I personally have great pity for the "brasileirinhos" who enthusiastically cheered the team, as journalist André Trigueiro correctly wrote. The majority now feel orphaned. Here, in this very diverse country with a hospitable and fun people, almost nothing is working well -- not health care, or education, or transportion, or safety. Except for the carnival, we're good at almost nothing else, they say. But at least we're good at soccer. This gave the common people a sense of self-esteem. Now we can no longer appeal to soccer. For many years to come, this sinister Tuesday, July 8, 2014 with 7 goals to 1 for Germany will follow us like an ominous shadow. But the people who have already endured many hardships, know how to turn things around. They have a historical resilience that few do.

I wish only one thing: that the elite who, at the opening, shamefully booed the President with unspeakable curses, will not embarrass Brazil again in front of the world when she delivers the trophy to the winner. Since such elites don't usually attend the stadiums and have little commitment to Brazil but a lot to their privileges, they are capable of repeating this shameless act. They would only be showing how they behave in front of people and their own country: with sovereign disdain, because they are suffering because they aren't living in Miami or Paris and feel condemned to live, accumulating here in the southern hemisphere.

The German team deserves an honorary mention for being discreet in the celebration and not feeling entitled because of such a stunning victory. And the Brazilian people appreciated that attitude and acknowledged the worthiness of the victory by applauding it, because they really did prove themselves better.

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