Blog Archives

One year on, Brazil still struggles to wake up after 7-1 Mineirazo

One year ago, Brazilian National Team players got up early at the Ouro Minas hotel to have their pictures taken with “Força Neymar” caps. The only star of the team was injured at his home. At least three of those said they had dreamed of going through the German defense to score the winning goal in the semifinal. “They say that all the time,” assistant coach Carlos Alberto Parreira admitted. Brazilians in that young squad were so confident that they would be in the World Cup final that coach Luiz Felipe Scolari chose winger Bernard for the clash in Belo Horizonte instead of a more conservative midfielder. It didn’t matter Joachin Loew’s squad were the favorites. Seleção’s dream for a sixth title started crumbling only seven minutes after the match began. The final whistle was surely blown, but to all of us present at the Mineirazo it is as if it was still going.

The disbelief of that day was built goal by goal. When Thomas Muller scored the first, and it happened not far from me, everyone but the Germans gasped — despite the fact Brazil was just average during the tournament. Immediately afterwards Brazilians started chanting. It didn’t last because a few minutes later Klose nailed the second. As local fans screamed in horror, Tony Kroos hit a perfect shot from the edge of the box to score the third. Some tears appear, but many Brazilians still believed. After Fernandinho slipped and allowed Kroos to net another, there was weeping and anger. Stewards feared a pitch invasion and police were sent inside. As they entered, Sami Khedira made it 5-0. There were still 60 minutes to play.

I was never confident in that Brazil side, but Germany were so unconvincing in the two previous matches that I believed in a miracle. It might look simple, but it wasn’t: I was one of the few to bet in Germany vs Argentina final. But in less than 30 minutes into the match, it was all over for the hosts. The 5-0 scoreline made the Brazilian crowd split into two groups: one was feeling crushed and hopeless and the majority started poking fun at the players, by singing “oleee” as they would to a Spanish bull and by ironically cheering for Germany. The initial anger was replaced by the feeling that none of those players actually represented them. There was support only until the second goal was scored. That lack of empathy is very typical of Seleção fans: they are not hardcore at all and most of them are more fond of the happening than of the sport itself. This might come as a shock, but Brazilians that care about soccer care much more about their clubs.

When Miroslav Klose, the new all-time World Cup top goalscorer, was substituted, every Brazilian applauded. His predecessor, Brazilian Ronaldo Nazário, was booed whenever he appeared on the screen. Seconds after Andre Schuerrle scored the seventh, the same round of applause appeared. Oscar’s consolation goal minutes before the final whistle was welcomed with chants of “I still believe” and laughter. Those that cried in the first half were somehow joining the trolls in the second. In the end, as I move to the press conference, I see the image that has stayed with me: a Brazilian couple hugs a German fan and shows their ticket to the camera. They knew they had seen history. Yet, it wasn’t enough for them to be quiet and take their fall.

The Mineirazo is nothing like the 1950 Maracanazo. The first was a sad comedy and the second was then a national tragedy that symbolized for many Brazil’s failure as a people. That is why Brazilians still joke about it, as the hashtag #7x1day shows. Yes, it was a colossal humiliation. But a tragedy? Not many Brazilians will use that word; they prefer to say it was an sporting embarrassment. Some say that because they expect it all to be different in the next World Cup. Others assume it as all wrong with Brazilian soccer and nothing was changed since July 8th 2014. In either case, losing in 2014 after five World Cup titles is surely a different experience from losing one without having any in 1950.

Today’s lack of talent, the inexperienced players, the dependency on Neymar, the better rivals… Under coach Dunga, it is more of the same. That is what annoys Brazilians the most about Mineirazo Day. Since that July 8th, Brazilian football TV shows never fail to mention the 7-1 beating whenever something very wrong is detected. It could be in politics, economics. Even in soccer. When the Brazilian FA makes a mistake — including the one of having a former president in a certain Swiss hotel visited by the FBI — fans and journalists are thrilled to repeat: “and Germany scores yet again.”

One year on, Brazilians know it is mandatory to go back to that game to talk about anything related to the Seleção or the players that were trashed by Germany then. Only Neymar has been preserved, since he wasn’t on the pitch. The feelings, though, are as bipolar as on that day; some think Brazil has nothing else to offer to football and others believe that the disaster could be a fresh start.

On 8 July 2015, the fans split among few believers, many disappointed and cynical and just as many upset with boring performances and lack of flair in the new Brazil. This time they don’t have as much reason as a year ago: Neymar is a better player, Oscar showed he can be special, Philippe Coutinho has shown potential at Liverpool, Roberto Firmino and Douglas Costa have just signed for European giants for a huge amount of money and the defensive duo of Thiago Silva and David Luiz is not mandatory anymore, good options have emerged in Miranda and Marquinhos. That might not be enough to win in Russia 2018, but there is more Brazilian talent now than in the Mineirazo days.

Watching Germany become world champions was less worse for Brazilians. Not only they stopped archrivals Argentina from celebrating in the Maracanã stadium, but also brought to the locals a sensation that a national conversation on football organization, tactics and academy systems would be key to make the Seleção great again. There is a huge round table to discuss that in December this year, with coaches and experts from all over. We just don’t know who is going to be on the top that, since Brazilian FA executives are under heavy suspicions of corruption and could leave.

Coach Muricy Ramalho, who rejected the Brazil job in 2010 and also got rejected over Dunga, candidly sums up what most Brazilian football fans and professionals feel in these post 7-1 days. “Everyone criticized the team, and that is fine. But so what? What are we going to do to improve? Nothing at all,” he said. “They just got a new coach and then played the following match. Dude, we had to stop everything. We had to lock ourselves somewhere for ten days, bring in important coaches, fitness coaches, the media, people in marketing. And only then decide what we are going to do with Brazilian football.” Dunga disagrees. He doesn’t think there are deeper issues in the Mineirazo and insists “Brazil are not as behind as everyone says.” “What happened in the World Cup was unique. People talk about us getting back, but we are still a reference, we are admired,” he said.

Brazil worries now lie in World Cup qualifiers. South Americans believe Chile and Argentina are definitely in for Russia 2018. Colombia is a likely one there too. There would be 1,5 spots left (fifth position will play the fifth in Asia in a playoff). Brazil, Uruguay and Ecuador were in the last World Cup. Peru and Paraguay were in Copa America semifinals. Playing against an Asian team for a place would already be a massive embarrassment for Brazilians. They will have to start fighting in October this year — and Neymar will be suspended for the first two matches. The key for the recover should be a change in style, in finding roots.

After the Mineirazo, the Seleção is less popular than ever, at least in Brazil. Results off the pitch are already disappointing: TV ratings to watch the Seleção are lower, the yellow shirt is rarely on ads and fewer of them sell (also due to the country’s sluggish economy). Recent political campaigns, which would love to cash in the organizational success of the World Cup, avoided talking about it so no one remembered the 7-1. Sure, Brazil can win again. They have overcome difficulties before. They could even be world champions in 2018. But Brazilians seem more depressed than ever about their national team. They don’t have jogo bonito and they are trapped in the crazy dreams their players had before that 8 July 2014 night.


Brazil’s debt relief in Africa shows how confusing our foreign policy is

Dilma CongoAverage Americans are probably confused now President Dilma Rousseff decided to cancel her State visit to Washington. After all, the Monroe doctrine preached that the Americas were theirs and a Brazilian leader should take for granted there is spying going on in her country. But the times they are a-changing and Brazil is adapting to a more prominent role. That includes calling off visits to the almighty United States. That includes pictures like this one, where a human rights champion shakes hands with people like Denis Sassou-Nguesso, Congo-Brazzaville’s violent and intolerant dictator.

Brazil is no typical super power.  But it clearly doesn’t accept being tamed as it used to. It doesn’t accept being entangled in Latin American issues only. That, of course, leads to a more “proud and active” diplomacy. And makes room for mistakes.

The decision to write off about US$ 1 billion debt of African nations is one of those that make internationals wonder what are Brazilian leaders really up to. No doubt they are seeking more global influence, but real politics isn’t enough to explain the ways of our diplomacy. Democratic Senegal is on the list. But so is Sudan, whose dictator may end up in The Hague. Congo-Brazzaville is also there, despite being an oil producing nation — and these debts are very rarely forgiven. Same for Angola, a country where a dictator has ruled for more than 30 years (by the way, he was recently reelected with the help of a Brazilian spin doctor, Joao Santana, a close friend of Dilma’s). Human rights, which were supposed to be Brazil’s cornerstone in diplomacy, don’t mean much by now. But they aren’t completely our of the equation.

Debate I took part on Al Jazeera’s The Stream on Brazil’s role in Africa

Before taking office, then President-elect Dilma Rousseff made an effort to distance Brazil from the Iranian nuclear crisis. She thought the risks were too big and Barack Obama’s disapproval was too obvious to insist on that. Unlike her predecessor, who traveled to Tehran to build an agreement with Mahmmoud Ahmadinejad, she criticized the Persian theocracy from the beginning. It was fair to think she would care about a less aggressive internationalization process.

In November 2010, when she was asked about the case of Sakineh Ashtiani, an Iranian woman who was to be stoned for adultery, Dilma said she was “radically against” that decision. She even called it “barbaric.” Iranian autocrats hated it. Eventually Sakineh would be released. Because of that statement Brazil wasn’t sitting on the wrong side of the fence anymore. But it surely did during the Green Revolution in 2009, when Lula — Dilma’s main ally — came out to defend Ahmadinejad from his critics. How confusing is that?

It was reasonable to believe Dilma would have human rights as a boundary. She was a victim of torture herself. She created a Commission of Truth to investigate crimes of the Brazilian dictatorship (1964-1985). But little by little the president gave up on the values and adopted pragmatic policies towards nasty regimes at the same time she boasted democracy. She never condemned Bashar al-Assad for his crimes in Syria. Her diplomats abstained in many votes on violations in Iran. Brazilians also voted to spare Libya from a no-fly zone at a moment Muammar Gaddhafi was bombing insurgents.

When it was the case to look more democratic, Dilma also sent her her signals. Also in confusing fashion. After neighboring Paraguay hosted a coup, she decided to cut ties. She pushed them out of Mercosur, the region’s trade bloc. She only took them back after Venezuela were accepted as new members — against Paraguayan will.

When Bolivian president Evo Morales was forced to land his plane in Austria under the suspicion of carrying Edward Snowden, Dilma was the last Latin American leader to condemn Spain and France for closing their air space to Morales. All these things don’t make a natural regional leader. And that is the only global role Brazil fits in.

It is probably high time Brazil starts getting clear on its message. As GDP forecasts flatten, Brazil’s economy won’t be enough to keep a rising power status. It is the moment to engage more positively with the world instead of repeating policies that rich countries are criticized for.