On October 30, 2007, FIFA president Sepp Blatter stood behind a podium with a blade within his reach. When the time arrived, 1pm in Zurich, Blatter sliced open the ear of an envelope and slid out a single piece of folded paper. Unraveling it with great, two-handed care, he smiled at the print and then held it aloft for the seated journalists and erected cameras to see.
The leaflet contained all of one word — ‘Brazil’.
In the 2417 days between then (the day the host nation of the 2014 World Cup was determined) and the very recent past (the day the host nation began the 2014 World Cup), the world changed in unrecognisable ways. The United States of America elected a black president, cellular phones began talking back to its user and even Sachin Tendulkar retired from cricket.
But through all that, a South American nation lay in simmering wait for its own life-altering moment — the final day of the Selecao’s campaign in the 20th edition of the World Cup. A home World Cup. For Brazil, that day is today, having arrived just a day before it was expected to. And what a difference those 24 hours have made.
Today, whatever happens between Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Brazil and Louis van Gaal’s Holland, a nation will grieve once again. Why? Because it’s in Brasilia and not Rio de Janeiro. Because they will play Holland at the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha and not Argentina at the Estadio Maracana. Because it’s Saturday and not Sunday. And mainly because it’s the Loser’s Final and not the Final itself.
Everything Brazil once dreamed of, the Germans snatched away with a 7-1 win in the semifinal. Now, amidst self-loathing and chaos, they will live out their worst nightmare — that of having to fight it out for the crumbs of glory. And it’s a tricky situation to be in, for a win against Holland and the title of ‘third best team of the World Cup’ will do little to balm over a nation’s unhealed scars. But another loss will surely only further twist a knife into scabless wounds.
Most of all, though, Scolari and the Selecao have all of 90 minutes (against a non-scoring Holland, that could easily be extended by half-an-hour) to prove that they still deserve the love, affection and mania showered upon them by an emotional nation for a better part of the previous month. And Brazil’s tecnico is perhaps aware of that, for when he arrived at the Selecao’s training centre in Teresopolis on Friday, he wore the crease marks of a man at least 20 years older than 65.
By the sidelines, Scolari constantly covered his strained face in his palms while speaking to his boss and Brazil’s football federation chief, Jose Maria Marin. Marin was perhaps quizzing him quite like the local journalists had an hour before. But unlike his answers to the press (“It was an error, a fatal error, I cannot explain those six minutes”), Scolari seemed less than confident — about his replies, future and a shredded side.
Things got slightly better when Neymar Jr, his injured number 10 who missed the game against Germany with a fractured vertabrae, limped into the training session without a wheelchair in tow and embraced his coach. Just yesterday day, Neymar’s agent Wagner Ribeiro had lashed out at Scolari, calling him ‘a ridiculous old jerk, arrogant, repulsive and conceited’, adding that those were some of the factors required to become Brazil’s head coach.
A nation nodded in agreement. But Neymar didn’t. “My agent does not speak on my behalf, only my father has the right to do that,” he said, before adding that he was mighty proud of his team-mates despite that horrific, hope-crushing loss in Belo Horizonte. “Even at 6-0, 7-0, they kept on fighting. They could’ve given up, but they didn’t. I’m proud of them and I’m proud to be a Brazilian.”
The press conference soon turned emotional, when the 22-year began to weep as he claimed that Colombian defender Juan Zuniga’s knee-thrust left him a centimetre or two away from being permanently paralysed from waist down. “But God blessed me. I could’ve been on a wheelchair today. But I can walk again.”
Like Neymar, a disillusioned football-mad nation too will learn to forget its past, count its blessings and walk again. But rest assured, that won’t happen by this Saturday or the next. For the Brasileiro believes that God heals on a Sunday. And on this Domingo, all 40 metres of Him will be busy overlooking the Maracana — with arms wide open in anticipation, just as an entire nation once was.
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