Brazil Goes Bust

2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

Nate Silver calls Brazil’s utter humiliation in yesterday’s 7-1 loss to Germany the “most shocking result in World Cup history.” Michael Goodman wonders if it will lead to unrest:

The immediate question is whether Brazil’s exit will serve as a flashpoint for an immediate revival of the previous protests, or in an even uglier scenario, like riots. The overwhelming police presence makes this unlikely, at least for now. It may not be pretty, it may not be humanitarian, it may not even be legal — but it has been brutally efficient. When the teams and the tourists and the cameras leave again, that’s a different story. There’s every reason to believe the lead-up to Rio 2016 will be similar to what Brazil experienced before the World Cup unless, of course, the government has a super-secret plan to boost the economy, increase employment, and more aggressively address persistent inequality.

Both Brazil the country and Brazil the team are likely in for a turbulent few years. Had the team won the World Cup, they might have avoided that fate with a confirmed soccer philosophy and break from social unrest. But the honeymoon wouldn’t have lasted very long. For Brazil, the problems run a good deal deeper than just losing a soccer match.

Keating eyes the country’s upcoming elections:

If Brazil had won the tournament, it could have changed the political significance of the entire event. If the country had made a dignified exit in the late rounds, it probably wouldn’t have had that much of an impact either way. But a defeat this humiliating is going to remind a lot of voters of why they were upset about the World Cup in the first place. Anti-Dilma chants were reportedly already being heard at the stadium today.

As Francisco Fonseca, a political scientist at Sao Paulo’s Getulio Vargas Foundation, told the L.A. Times on June 28, “if there were some kind of catastrophe, or chaos, that embarrassed Brazil in front of the world, that would clearly have negative consequences for the government in the election.”

Jesse Singal provides a psychoanalysis of the crushed Brazilian fan:

The problem is that soccer dominance is an important part of Brazil’s sports identity, and this loss cut to the core of it. As Eric Simons, author of The Secret Lives of Sports Fans, explained in an email, “If you’re Brazilian, your identity is based on self-concept that you’re always the best soccer team in the world, and you know that everyone else knows it, so you’re proud.” So the pain of losing isn’t, in this case, that of an underdog happy to be there, and for the Brazilians to lose in this manner is to collide violently against all sorts of national expectations and self-conceptions.

“What happens when your pride, self-concept, and identity are suddenly obliterated in front of the entire world?” said Simons. “I don’t know. I don’t know if anyone does; this is, in sports, something of an unprecedented self-esteem catastrophe. Has anyone that good, with that much expectation, [ever] lost that badly before, with so many people watching?” The answer to that question may be no, which would mean we’re in somewhat uncharted sports-trauma territory.

Update from a reader:

While there were some rumblings of riots yesterday, I think Brazilians deserve a little more credit. The idea of conflating a historically bad result in a crucial World Cup game with the protests about the country’s economic and management issues undermines the voters’ intelligence. Given the looming inflation, underwhelming GDP, exorbitant taxation, and horrible mismanagement of taxpayer money, Ms. Rousseff will have a hard reelection campaign regardless of how well Brazil performed in the World Cup. What we witnessed yesterday was the triumph of planning, discipline, and hard work over the notion that the home team was predestined to win. Germany gave Brazil a master class yesterday; it is up to Brazil now to learn from this lesson, both on and off the field.

Now if Argentina beats Brazil soundly on the consolation match on Saturday, all bets are off …

(Photo by Steffen Stubager/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)