By Matt Niksa
When Germany defeated Brazil 7-1 at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, it was undeniably one of the most humiliating defeats in Brazilian soccer history. However, saying that this semifinal loss was simply an end to the Brazilian World Cup dream does not do this result justice. This loss represents the end to an era, and an end to the perception that Brazil is a soccer powerhouse.
No longer can Brazilian fans rest on their decade-old laurels when Pele and Ronaldo brought Brazil to glory. This loss purged all of these old achievements from even the most nostalgic fan’s mind, replacing them with the grim idea that this loss could signify a World Cup trophy-less spell of Brazilian soccer that could stretch for decades.
Ironically, there is one element of Brazilian soccer culture that was not purged from Brazilian soccer history after this loss. In fact, this aspect of Brazil’s soccer culture has been revived by this defeat, leaving even the most optimistic Brazilian fans depressed. What is this element, you may ask? The answer lies in Brazilian history, and more specifically, with a ghost that has haunted Brazilians since the 1950s.
If I were to ask a group of Brazilian soccer fans whether or not ghosts exist, I would not be surprised if a majority of them answered with a resounding “yes” to my question. Brazilians are a people that believe in superstition, and even in the paranormal. For those that answered “no” to my question, even they would know that at least one ghost exists in Brazilian culture. A ghost that has haunted Brazilian soccer fans since 1950, a ghost that many believe has been sighted wearing blue-and-white cloth, striking painful memories into the hearts of Brazilians everywhere.
If you have not figured out the identity of this ghost, then let me explain. This ghost represents the painful memory of the famous World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro at the Maracana Stadium. It is the ghost of the Maracanazo, a ghost that represented, up until this past Tuesday, the most tragic day in Brazilian soccer history.
The year was 1950 and the Brazilians were honored to host the first World Cup ever in their 56-year history. The winner of the World Cup was determined by a final group stage, with each team in the four-team group playing each other once. Brazil had beaten Spain and Sweden, the two teams in their group besides Uruguay, by a combined 13-2 scoreline. All the Brazilians needed to do to win the World Cup was to avoid defeat against the massive underdogs in Uruguay.
When Brazil and Uruguay took the field at the Maracana stadium on July 16th, 1950, over 200,000 fans were reported to be in attendance, a stadium record that still stands to this day. Outside of the stadium, the city of Rio de Janeiro was preparing for a carnival-like celebration. The stadium atmosphere was raucous, with many Brazilians expecting a comprehensive Brazilian victory.
Brazil was the first to draw blood, with striker Friaca scoring in the 47th minute. Then, in one of the most shocking turn of events in Brazilian soccer history, Uruguay’s Juan Schiaffino and Alcides Ghiggia scored goals in the 66th and 79th minute. The fans in attendance were left in disbelief. When the final whistle blew, an immediate reaction of despair and shock was felt around the stadium. One fan committed suicide, with three other fans instantly dying from heart attacks. A group of Brazilian fans knocked over a bust of the mayor of Rio de Janeiro that stood outside the stadium. In the midst of the chaos, Uruguay was given the Jules Rimet Trophy without an award ceremony.
Of all of the reactions to that game, the one main consequence of the loss was the change in uniform colors. Instead of retaining the same white shirts Brazil wore at that 1950 World Cup, Brazil changed their uniform colors to a vibrant yellow and green kit, colors of the Brazilian flag that make the national team so easily recognizable today. The effect of the Maracanazo loss was a complete change in Brazilian culture; the Brazilians would no longer underestimate opponents, and they would no longer disgrace their fans like they did on that fateful July day. Brazilians vowed to forget that loss, to move on from that humiliation.
The national team went on to win the World Cup in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002. They won the 2013 Confederation Cup in front of their own fans, the ultimate redemption from that loss to Uruguay so many years ago. Brazilians had begun to move on from that 1950 day, and although they may never forget it, the pain that they had experienced and had been reminded of over and over again had begun to heal.
Now, in light of this most recent humiliation that has befallen the Brazilian national team, I have to say, I really do feel for all of these Brazilian fans. The treatment they received in that six-minute span at the Estadio Miniera stadium in Belo Horizonte was worse than torture. It was a rediscovery of the embarrassment and humiliation that they all suffered sixty-four years ago wrapped up in a tidy, six-minute package. What happened on that soccer field between Brazil and Germany this past Tuesday was not just a semifinal game at a FIFA World Cup. It was an soccer clinic unfolding right before everyone’s eyes.
For the first 29 minutes of that game, Germany decided to hold a free soccer clinic to teach a lesson to every Brazilian national team member. The Germans, led by professors Thomas Muller and Toni Kroos, taught the Brazilians how to pass and shoot, and how to work as a team. The Germans, assisted by assistant professor Sami Khedira, then demonstrated this lesson by scoring four simple goals in six minutes. It was a frighteningly short lesson, and by the end of it, every Brazilian at that stadium was either weeping or too stunned to show any emotion.
The commentators on TV kept on saying that the Brazilian national team players were as shocked as the fans were. I would be shocked too, if I had just seen a ghost appear right before my eyes. Every Brazilian player and fan at that stadium saw that ghost appear before their eyes as that fourth goal was scored by professor Kroos. The ghost looked the same to everyone too: draped in blue-and-white cloth, with a sad expression on its face, almost as if it felt the punishment was enough. The ghost then faded out of everyone’s sight, just in time for Germany to put a fifth bullet into the Brazilian heart.
Was this 7-1 semifinal loss at the hands of the Germans, now coined the Mineirazo, worse than that Maracanazo loss sixty four years ago? Undoubtedly yes. This loss will not just be talked about for generations upon generations by Brazilians. It will be talked about by Chileans, Uruguayans, Mexicans, and even by Americans for that matter. The Germans didn’t just take the Brazilian pride — they took their soul too.
The world will no longer look to Brazil as the model for soccer glory. Germany will now hold that mantle, a mantle it has finally conquered for its own. For Brazilians, this loss does represent something positive for them in the future however. They can start a fresh, new regime, unshackled from the expectations of becoming the next “Samba Stars.” They still have the world’s darling in Neymar, and an absolute rock in the back in Thiago Silva. Maybe we will see some Brazilian pride restored in 2018 in Russia. But until then, Brazilians will have to close their curtains and lock their windows before they go to bed every night or else the Maracanazo and Mineirazo ghosts’ cackles will be heard long into the night.
Contact Matt Niksa at mattniksa80’at’ gmail.com.