Brazil was so poor against Holland they even missed out on the headlines, with papers focusing on a murder investigation. The morning after Brazil were dumped out of the World Cup by Holland, two of the country's top news magazines chose, unsurprisingly, to splash football stories on their front pages. “BETRAYAL, ORGIES AND HORROR”, read the headline in Veja. “SEX, VIOLENCE AND FOOTBALL”, screamed its rival Istoe.
Many Brazilians did indeed feel betrayed by their team's failure to win a record sixth World Cup and others were angry at the violent stamp that led to Felipe Melo's sending off. But the headlines in question were not about the poor form of the Seleo or even the sexual peccadilloes of their players, who came home early.
They were about Bruno Fernandes, the goalkeeper of Brazil's most popular team, Flamengo. Bruno is currently the prime suspect in a murder investigation after his former lover, who reportedly once claimed to have kissed the former Manchester United winger Cristiano Ronaldo, mysteriously vanished. On Rio's beaches and in its street bars it is now Bruno, not Dunga, who is the talk of the town.
That Rio's gossip machine seems more concerned about Bruno's private life than Brazil's exit from the World Cup, which in itself says a lot about Brazilian feelings towards their outgoing manager and the team he led to South Africa. Despite the packed bars and the flag-strewn streets, an overwhelming sense of frustration and disinterest has hovered over many Brazil fans throughout the World Cup.
Brazil no longer Brazil
Saturday's headlines reflected just that: while Brazilians find it hard to comprehend why a wealthy, handsome young footballer such as Bruno might risk his career by embroiling himself in a murder investigation, they don't need anyone telling them why their team failed to reach the World Cup semifinals.
Several weeks before the tournament started, I visited Paulo Sergio Gomes, a football coach in Rocinha, Rio's largest shantytown. As he put the 12-year-olds of Rocinha FC's youth team through their paces, he explained, to my surprise, that he would be supporting South Africa in the World Cup rather than Brazil. His logic? That under Dunga the beautiful game was temporarily off the menu. Brazil, he said, were no longer Brazil.
Paulo was not alone. In the days leading up to the World Cup, I came across dozens of other Brazilians who claimed to have abandoned their beloved Seleo in favour of South Africa or Spain. “I don't think Brazilians ever really identified with the way that Dunga put the team together,” says Humberto Peron, a football writer from Brazil's Folha de So Paulo newspaper.
“Playing a defensive team that exploits counterattacks is not our style. Even today Brazilians are not madly in love with the 1994 team that won the Cup, but didn't enchant anyone. Deep down, every single supporter knew that as soon as Brazil faced a stronger team we would have problems. And that is what happened.”
Of course, when their side took to the field in South Africa this was all forgotten and virtually every corner of South America's largest nation was overrun by football fever. Grown-up friends took to collecting World Cup stickers, convening on street corners every Saturday morning to ditch David James doubles for images of Robinho or Kaka. My neighbours plastered their apartments with giant Brazil flags. Street hawkers made a killing selling “semi-original” Brazil shirts from Paraguay.
Schools and banks shut up shop. Even the city's police cars got a friendlier makeover, with my local cops attaching plastic flags to their battered vehicles. With elections on the horizon, Brazil's politicians were also keen for some of the action. President Lula was photographed clutching his vuvuzela while his would-be successor, Dilma Rousseff, who will dispute the presidential election in October, donned a bright yellow jersey and predicted that Brazil would beat Holland 2-0.
But when they didn't, the hysteria suddenly morphed into resignation; bar talk turned to Bruno's missing lover and dustbins across Rio began filling with tonnes of suddenly useless yellow and green paraphernalia. Newspapers editors filled their pages with reports that Luiz Felipe Scolari or the Corinthians manager, Mano Menezes, might be called on to lead Brazil to victory in 2014 and, of course, with the sordid details of Bruno's troubled private life.
As for their side's defeat, the front page of the sports section of Brazil's Globo newspaper said it all, picturing a filthy orange wheelie bin, packed with crumpled newspapers, a yellow and green vuvuzela and a photograph of the crestfallen Dunga. The message was clear: the beautiful game has to return.
“Certainly we will have a more offensive team [in 2014],” says Peron, who, like most Brazilians, believes things must change. “I think we
have learned that playing ugly is not synonymous with victory.” — © Guardian News and Media 2010
Keywords: 2010 World Cup