Fans from the world over descended for a month-long festival of football but the performance of the home team and the state of the nation suggests long-term pain for Brazil
By Peter Staunton
First, the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) hoodwinked fans and convinced them of the impossible - that a team as ordinary as theirs could win the World Cup. Next, with "the Hexa" seemingly in the bag, the tournament in its entirety was sold to the people merely as a coronation; the crown to be bestowed at the Maracana on July 13. Success off the field, then, was contingent upon success on it. Brazil's government exploited its people's addiction to football; it made them feel like bad citizens if they objected.
If the national football team could have triumphed on the field then perhaps the whole thing would have been a little easier to swallow. Brazil's federal government burned through around $13 billion in setting up and hosting the 2014 World Cup. They have not even a bronze medal to show for it and the public at large is entitled to feel ripped off. The team cannot be separated from the CBF and the CBF cannot be separated from the federal government. They all failed. Brazil didn't even get to play at the renovated Maracana.
There was a symmetry to the Brazil team at the World Cup and what ultimately passed for the organisation of the tournament as a whole. Brazil's players and those fans present in the stadiums wanted it and sang passionately and were carried high by nationalist fervour. The attitude at large suggested a willingness to ignore the problems and shortcomings, set them to one side, and concentrate on getting through it.
Brazil's quixotic quest to win the World Cup looked out of time. Luiz Felipe Scolari, his very presence an anachronism, was the best man for the job that the CBF could muster. That alone is a damning indictment on the present coterie of Brazilian coaches. If that sounds like a slight on Alexandre Gallo, Tite or Muricy Ramalho it is because their teams do not set the pulse racing either.
Scolari proffered functional football without the functions. He assembled a wide-eyed bunch but only a tiny percentage of the squad were ever up to scratch. Nor is the generation coming after or after that. Player development in Brazil is non-existent. Neymar and Thiago Silva are the only two now beyond reproach in the current bunch. Nonetheless, a wilful ignorance ran all through the tournament that Fred and Ramires could carry out the great deception and snaffle the World Cup and conjure the magic of bygone eras.
Brazil managed to summon its past in one sense at this World Cup and that was a return to its brutal dictatorship of the 1960s. The military crackdown on the protests in the major cities succeeded in quietening the dissent of the people but only through harsh methods and intimidation. Protesters were often left one against 10 in the presence of police.
"The main reason protests have decreased in visibility is repression," says Ben Borges of the Occupy Fifa movement, which seeks to highlight alleged issues concerning football's governing body. "The military police have been confiscating laptops and mobile phones and using social media to catch people and keep them in place until the end of demonstrations.
"They have been using the constitution in every way to try to control and tackle the issues to avoid the real face of Brazil being seen. Everything has been done to try to hide the real state of things."
In many host cities and on the highways connecting them, infrastructure projects are not yet completed. There is evidence that the money marked out for certain jobs never reached the contractors.
And it was not just anarchists in the underbelly who were out on the streets. Grandmothers, their daughters and their granddaughters came out to tell the world that they had had enough. The health and education of its people is not Brazil's priority with a World Cup and a Summer Olympic Games to organise and president Dilma Rousseff will pay the price in October's polls.
"Protests are a way to show you don't agree," says Borges. "At the end everything goes back to normal. Maybe, tomorrow, the media talks about it if there was violence. But nobody speaks about the structural problems in society which prompt them."
Brazil's middle class gorged on a feast of football in shiny new stadiums while the poor were driven from their slums. Now that the international community has dispersed, Brazil may smoulder anew. Life for ordinary Brazilians resumes and it's like the World Cup never happened; a tanking economy, rising costs of living, corruption, crime. But now they have a terrible football team to boot.
Their World Cup was stolen.