SAO PAULO — Ask Brazilians how their national team will fare at the World Cup and chances are they will predict a run at least to the July 13 final, if not a win. Understandable optimism, given that Brazil will be playing at home and has won more World Cups (five) than any other soccer power.
But what if the host nation is booted out early? Very possible with defending champion Spain or 2010 runner-up the Netherlands looming for Brazil in the first knockout game and a tough path beyond that. Are Brazilians good losers? Would they sour the tournament mood in defeat? Or swallow their disappointment with a few morale-boosting caipirinha cocktails, crank up the samba and party on?
Like a kid who picks his scabs, Brazil has never allowed the wound of its last World Cup loss at home to fully heal. That was way back in 1950, before most Brazilians alive today were born. But the national pain of Brazil 1, Uruguay 2 has been handed down from one generation to the next like an heirloom. Seemingly everyone knows about the stunned silence of 173,000-plus who packed Maracana Stadium expecting to see Brazil lift the trophy, how fans wept and never forgave goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa for letting Alcides Ghiggia score Uruguay’s winner past his left-hand post.
“We carry this trauma. It’s really a trauma,” Deputy Sports Minister Luis Fernandes said in an interview with a small group of reporters, including The Associated Press. “Probably around 90 percent of the Brazilian population wasn’t born in 1950, and we still carry this trauma. I wasn’t born in 1950, and this trauma, I’ve been socialized, brought up in terms of this trauma.”
A kid of six in 1950, former player Barcimio Sicupira recalled how “my dad punched the radio and broke it in half” after Alcides Ghiggia scored in the 79th minute. Rubens Minelli, who became a national championship-winning coach, was playing an amateur tournament that July 16 afternoon, his attention focused not on his game but on the unfolding drama being broadcast by radio from Rio de Janeiro.
“Everybody was sad, they couldn’t believe what happened,” he said in an interview. “It was a national disgrace.”
For a sporting mega-event like the World Cup to become truly memorable, host nation success can be vital. Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah put the wow into the 2012 London Games when they all won gold for Britain on “Super Saturday” at the Olympic Stadium. Australian Cathy Freeman did the same for the Sydney Olympics in winning the 400 meters. If Brazil triumphs in July, one imagines the nation of carnival will treat the World Cup to street parties even more epic and delirious than when France became the last host to win in 1998. The ghost of 1950 would be exorcised.
And if that doesn’t happen? Ron DelMont, managing director of FIFA’s office in Brazil, believes Brazilians are too enamored with soccer to turn their backs on the World Cup should their team tumble out early.
“We expect that Brazil will make it to the final. But let’s just say that it doesn’t happen. Every indication that we’ve had so far about the tournament in Brazil is that it will be a celebration of football, irrespective,” he said.
“There will be still a lot of enthusiasm about what happens, whoever the eventual winner will be. Brazil, because of the culture and the love that it has for football, is going to defy all the other previous host cities … It will still be a celebration all the way to the end.”
Fernandes seconded that.
“How will people react if we lose along the way? They won’t react well,” he said. “But they’re also football fans … Interest will continue in the World Cup if Brazil is eliminated. But that ghost will continue to haunt us.”