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From the Samba beat to a funeral drum

THE pictures weren't hard to find on the internet.

Brazil fans in Belo Horizonte are left in disbelief following the humiliation of their side by Germany. Picture: Reuters
Brazil fans in Belo Horizonte are left in disbelief following the humiliation of their side by Germany. Picture: Reuters

Any search including "Brazil" and "fans" threw up endless variations on the same theme yesterday: supporters with their head in their hands, supporters with their hands covering their mouths, supporters looking dead-eyed at the pitch or a television screen, supporters frozen in a Munch-style primal scream, supporters crying. Again and again and again, supporters in yellow and green crying their eyes out. In America, the online newspaper The Huffington Post carried a piece under the headline: "34 Pictures Of Emotionally Distressed Brazil Fans".

This was a national trauma as a source of amusement. Would they have done the same had any other country gone out of the tournament? Perhaps, but no team in world sport provokes a global reaction like the Brazil football side. Most club and international teams matter deeply to their own supporters while rivals want to see them fail. There is a more complex relationship with the side they call the Selecao. Brazil are answerable not only to 200 million of their own people but, it usually feels, to everyone else too. With the exception of authentic and established rivals such as Argentina and Uruguay, hundreds of millions of others feel a degree of ownership of Brazil and react to their triumphs and failures accordingly.

Brazil's great teams are remembered, but everyone's great teams are remembered. The difference with Brazil is that its poor teams make almost as deep an impression. Their side in 1974 were a brutal bunch who won only two out of seven games at the World Cup. They were not anything special in 1990, 2006 and 2010. When people remember their wonderful 1982 team the names trip off the tongue: Zico, Socrates, Falcao, Oscar, Eder . . . and also Serginho. A tall, pretty hopeless centre forward, Serginho was the blunt spearhead of an intoxicating team. He played five times and scored two goals at that World Cup and is remembered only as a dud.

The best Brazilian teams are embraced by football; their poor ones offend and cause resentment and scorn. Over the past month it gradually became clear that Luiz Felipe Scolari had assembled a team of pretenders. Neymar aside, they had no creativity or menace. Thiago Silva aside, they had no reliability and authority in defence. Goalkeeper Julio Cesar aside, they had no-one they could rely on.

When their choking limitations were allied to cynical aggression and fouling against Colombia in the quarter-final - James Rodriguez seemed to embody precisely the flair Brazil were lacking - the hosts lost entire continents of admirers. The backlash was vicious. Gone was the dreamy romanticism of Samba football, of the improvised skills learned on the Copacabana, of them being worthy of the legacy shaped by Pele, Garrincha, Jairzinho, Rivelino, Zico, Socrates, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and others. The current imposters, with one or two exceptions, were unfit to wear the canary yellow colours. They had more stars on the shirts - five, one for each World Cup win - than in them.

Brazil have been poor and unloved in the past, but never like this. Never a laughing stock. They were left with nothing as German ran seven goals past them on Tuesday night. Even Ronaldo's share of the World Cup goalscoring record was lost to Mirsolav Klose, whose 16th set a new benchmark, but that was a mere footnote. The disgrace and the shame were as complete as has ever been known in modern sport, with its global communications and its social media ready to unleash millions of mocking messages instantly. The greatest football shirt of them all had became toxic.

Brazil will rise again. They will almost certainly win a World Cup again. They will recover because of their population base, their obsession with football and the sheer number of their people who play the game. But those five World Cup triumphs included a 24-year period between 1970 and 1994 when they did not win one and it is difficult to imagine them constructing a convincing team by the time of the next finals in Russia in 2018. By the one after that, in Qatar, their one exceptional current talent, Neymar, will be 30. Oscar and Bernard are the only other players in their World Cup squad who are younger than 25. Their group isn't only mediocre, it is ageing. Replacements are not immediately obvious. Last year Brazil's under-20 team finished bottom of its group at the South American Youth Championship and so did not qualify for the under-20 World Cup.

The shirt is still iconic. The fascination will endure. Brazil will repair itself and come again, eventually. This is not about anyone having a divine right to football success, it is about hundreds of millions of supporters around the world, non-Brazilians, regarding a strong and flamboyant Brazil team as part of the magic of football.

Brazilians have contributed enormously to a truly great World Cup. All those crying supporters deserved better than shame and disgrace. Football will rightly give Brazil a kicking. Scolari, Fred, David Luiz and Marcelo will be the chief fall guys. The healing process will take years and it will take the catharsis of being a major force again. Brazil cannot be permanently cast as hopeless losers and the butt of the jokes. A dreadful Brazil team has just contributed to a result which genuinely can be described as sensational. But football is a lot more exciting when they're good.

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