A Brazilian tragedy
SPORTS FOR ALL - Philip Ella Juico (The Philippine Star) - July 16, 2014 - 12:00am

Long after the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Brazil will neither be known just as the world’s largest producer of coffee; nor solely for its creativeness in fusing European and African music; nor the uniquely Brazilian samba and Sergio Mendes and his band; nor bossa nova (new trend), music that brings together samba and jazz; nor even the prolonged protests al summer that greeted the hosting by the world’s fifth largest country (n terms of area and population of 200 million) of the grand football fiesta.

For some time, the country will also be known for its nightmarish experience as host of the 2014 FIFA world championship.

As if the 1-7 loss to Germany (Brazil’s worst ever in the World Cup) in a semifinal match where the Brazilians allowed five goals in 18 minutes in the first half was not a bitter pill to swallow, even more catastrophic was a repeat of its now famous meltdown against Germany, when it bowed to Netherlands, 0-3, to wind up fourth. Worse, the two consecutive losses in home ground were the first since 1940. Julio Cesar, Brazil’s goalkeeper, conceded 14 goals in the 2014 edition to own the dubious distinction of allowing 18 goals in two World Cups.

As expected, the Brazilian team and coach Luiz Felipe Scolari were greeted by boos at the end of the match with the Dutch. Individual players were also the object of the ire of football-crazy Brazilians: David Lutz’s header a few meters from Cesar went straight to Netherland’s Blind who promptly scored in the 17th minute. Team captain Thiago Silva, who returned after a one-game suspension, wasn’t of much help to his team fouling Arjen Robben inside the penalty area. Robben’s teammate, Van Persie scored on the penalty kick.

It wasn’t only Scolari and company however who were greeted by catcalls. Brazilian President, Ms Dilma Rousseff was called all sorts of names. The Guardian.com stated that the Brazilian chief executive “immediately following the epochal defeat took to Twitter to try to put into words the pain of a nation, “Like every Brazilian, I am very, very sad about this defeat. I am immensely sorry for all of us, fans and our players”, before borrowing the lyrics of a popular samba song to urge them to ‘shake off the dust and rise again’. That will be easier said than done.”

To be sure, Rousseff and her Workers Party will suffer political fallout from the debacle. Anti-World Cup protesters had somehow been mollified when Brazil progressed from the eliminations to the round-of-16. In an interview early in the month-long tournament, FIFA President Joseph (Sepp) Blatter had confidently said that the World Cup took protesters off the streets and had them cheering for their team.

As late as last Wednesday, after Brazil went down in defeat to Germany on Tuesday, Blatter, according to writer Avaneesh Pandey forcefully repeated the same theme a week ago, “Where is all the social unrest?, Blatter had asked the audience at a conference in Rio de Janeiro before declaring World Cup 2014 “a success”. However, as Brazil slowly recovers from its worst-ever performance in the tournament, Blatter’s proclamation, it’s feared, may have come too soon.

It is feared that as the Brazilians start to shake off World Cup fever and are reminded of the US11 billion the government spent to host the football fiesta, widespread discontent may once again take over and Brazilians will be out in the streets anew. The Guradian.com reports that in Paulista, a small gang of protesters against the World Cup reveled in Brazil’s defeat. In Zona Sul, buses were set on fire and a shop looted. But for the vast majority, stunned resignation seemed to be the order of the day.

In Rio de Janeiro, The Guardian reports that the mood was similar – small scuffles broke out and there was panic at a mass robbery on the beach, but the overall atmosphere was somewhere between mutiny and mournful resignation as tens of thousands trooped away from the Copacabana in the teeming rain.

Pandey states that following Brazil’s debacle, the protests against the Rousseff administration which had slowly faded into the background after the Brazilian team’s respectable performance at the start of the tournament provided hope to a nation full of soccer fans, might witness a rebirth. If the protests are renewed, it could come as a blow to the beleaguered Rousseff, whose approval rating fell to 48 percent in April from 55 percent in February, according to a poll cited by The Economist.

Throughout Rosseff’s tenure, Brazil has battled high inflation which has remained above the 4.5 percent target. Growth has also slowed and this has sparked people’s anger which was first expressed when bus fares were increased.

Despite all these problems, Brazil’s economy is the world’s seventh largest and the largest in Latin America. It is one of the world’s fastest growing major economies, a member of the so-called BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) group and is predicted to be one of the five largest in the world in the decades to come. Proof of the resiliency of its economy is it received an International Monetary Fund (IMF) rescue package in mid-2002 of US$30.4 billion but paid it back in 2005 before the loan matured in 2006.

Certainly, there are economic benefits to be derived from the 2014 FIFA World Cup as most sporting and non-sporting events of this magnitude create. A study by Ernst & Young Terco details some of these. More of these benefits next week.

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