History Repeats Itself: Brazil suffers another heartbreak on home soil
By Zack Goldman
The world’s most decorated football nation waited 64 years to erase a nightmare.
Instead, a worse one came.
It has been said it could never get as bad for Brazil as the Maracanazo, the nation’s famous loss to Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup Final in Rio.
That was carnival recast into funeral, when 400,000 horrified eyes looked on as a haunting blur of sky blue rendered their heavily-favored heroes powerless.
It was the unthinkable happening to the invincible.
It was like watching one’s own home being robbed during a party.
And, while the five World Cup triumphs that followed for the Seleção certainly displaced the prominence of that memory, it would be disingenuous to say that the historical mosaic of futebol in Brazil has altogether discarded that recurring fever dream of so many years ago.
Whether the goalkeeper Barbosa’s infamous blunder — which has long been blamed for the loss — was heard in the stadium or through staticky radio waves or via trembling voices or quivering hands or lines of print on a page years later, it is a story whose legacy lives on and that no Brazilian of any generation since has forgotten.
If anything, the Maracanazo’s influence and significance is more alive this year, as the country hosts the World Cup for the first time since 1950, than at any moment in recent history.
Yet, while every Brazilian grew up hearing the legend, the vast majority of the country never knew anything of the taste, the smell, the sight of that kind of disappointment. After all, this is a nation that hadn’t lost a competitive match on home soil since 1975.
Today, the ghost story these players had long been spoon-fed as children became a harsh, inescapable reality.
Only this wasn’t quite the same.
This wasn’t a glorious battle in a final — one that hinged on singular moments of legendary brilliance and brief, cruel individual failure. This didn’t have an electrifying second-half comeback or a late-match surge for an equalizer or an unfancied underdog. This didn’t even have a trophy.
Aristotle wrote of “the catharsis of pity and fear in tragedy.” The Maracanazo had that catharsis. On this day, however, the tragedy unfolded in particularly anti-climatic terms.
It was over early and profoundly disappointing, lusterless, and deflating for most of the match.
Old Aristotle would think it quite a bad play — and the Brazilians, and many of us, would be inclined to agree on the basis of footballing quality.
It was, however, historic.
Within 29 minutes, Germany had not just ruined a World Cup dream, they had throttled it dead. With five goals in the space of 18 minutes — that felt to everyone else like three, but to the Brazilians like an eternity — Die Mannschaft put the game to bed. With so long to play, they were branded with the timeworn tag of being “efficient.”
Of course, the Germans were efficient — machinelike, even. But, these were glorious mechanics at play.
Exemplary engineering can be both weird and beautiful to look at — and this had elements of both. The Germans are a dynamic, attractive, experimental (and, yes, okay, efficient) marvel with an elusive soul — and their dominance deserves proper respect and context beyond a narrative of Brazilian heartbreak. They aren’t just a machine — they are parts of the Newcomen Engine, grandfather clock, and Large Hadron Collider all rolled into one. They are devastatingly brilliant, diverse, and difficult to understand in any simple terms.
But, that discussion can come at another time. Today is about Brazil.
It is about a team with unimaginable pressure on its shoulders, trying desperately to paper over its cracks, stitch together its broken seams, and survive without its best player and spiritual leader — a team that came undone in desperate fashion.
It is about a nation that has endured so much to get to this point, that has been forcibly bent over backwards, forwards, and sideways to host a party whose mortifying expense was shamelessly demanded by its guests, FIFA — a country that was then forced to watch this.
And it is about football, the game we all love — the game that the Brazilians love the best — which can at once be endlessly cruel and endlessly fair, heart-rending and heart-pumping, a dream and a nightmare.
Today’s game was all of those things to the neutral, but it was only a disaster in Brazil.
Eventually, though, this will be yet another Maracanazo.
It will sting and hurt and take its toll.
But, then, as the years roll on, it will become an old ghost story that generations pass down — first with pain, then with disbelief, then with fascination.
It will be an event that, like the name Barbosa, is eventually spoken in a whisper instead of a yell — an event that will one day fade, and influence, and be folded neatly into a long history of successes and failures.
And, knowing Brazil, there will be a lot more of the former than the latter in the years to come.
They are a nation that hadn’t won a World Cup before the Maracanazo, but lifted five trophies in the 13 tournaments that followed.
That Brazil’s greatest successes were born out of its darkest hour will perhaps offer some small solace — even on nights like these, when all seems so lost and bleak.
This article was written by AFR Contributing Editor, Zack Goldman.