Neymar & the resurrection of Brazil

“Felipão’s (Scolari) work wasn’t that bad,” striker Jo told Goal. “I just think we lacked concentration in the Germany game. It was well below normal.

“The preparation for that game wasn’t the best. The reaction after losing Neymar could have been faster. We were too wrapped up in his injury, so our focus for that game was poor.

“But I must admit that the defeat was still difficult to explain, because it was really a fatality.”

It was certain ly treated that way by the public and press alike. The media backlash was brutal. GloboEsporte labelled the loss to Germany as “The disgrace of all disgraces”. Lance! claimed it was “The
Biggest shame in history”.

Brazil still had another game to go, of course – the third place play-off, against Netherlands. They were in no fit state to play, though, and still appeared to be in a stupor as they slumped to a 3-0 loss.

Scolari promptly resigned, aware that even though it was he who had led Brazil to a fifth World Cup, in 2002, his reputation had been tarnished forever.

“I will be remembered as the coach to lose 7-1 but I knew that risk when I took the job,” he mused in his parting press conference.

“The person who decided the line-up, the tactics, was me. It was my choice. But It was like we blacked out. It was a catastrophe; the worst moment of my life.”

It took Brazil eight years to recover from their infamous 2-1 loss at home to Uruguay in the deciding game at the 1950 World Cup, on the field at least.

The pain of the ‘Maracanazo’ never truly went away, though. Some players never recovered. Brazil goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa Nascimento was made a scapegoat for the defeat, as the press felt he should have kept out Alcides
Ghiggia’s winning goal, and forward Zizinho even later blamed the media for his team-mate’s death.

The fear was that the 7-1 would become just as heavy a burden for the members of the 2014 squad to bear. Certainly, it quickly became apparent that Scolari’s resignation wasn’t going to suddenly cure all Brazil’s ills.

Renowned disciplinarian Dunga was brought back as coach after the World Cup but when Mauro Silva came on board as an assistant, he discovered a group still trying to come to terms with the pain of Belo Horizonte.

“It was a very difficult time,” he told Goal. “The 7-1 was the biggest blow that Brazilian football had ever suffered in all its history.

“Unfortunately, it did not go well for Dunga and it ended up costing him his job, as it did [technical coordinator] Gilmar. I was happy to try to help, but unfortunately the project did not work out.

“At the 2015 Copa America, the team felt a lot of pressure. The 7-1 weighed heavily on them and they felt a great responsibility, it was still a kind of trauma. You could see the team were quite affected, emotionally.”

None more so than Neymar, who sparked a mass brawl at the end of Brazil’s loss to Colombia by petulantly firing the ball at Pablo Armero.

The No.10 had clashed several times during the preceding 90 minutes with old foe Zuniga. At one point, he accused the Colombian of deliberately injuring him in Fortaleza before adding, “Then you call me to apologise, you son of a
bitch?!”

It was clear that while the physical wounds of 2014 had healed, the emotional scars had not.

Brazil ultimately bowed out in the quarter-final stage in Chile. At a special centenary edition of the Copa America in the United States the following year, the Selecao were eliminated at the group stage for the first time since 1987.

Dunga’s days were numbered and he was replaced at the helm by Tite in the summer of 2016. The former Corinthians boss had not been involved with the Selecao in any capacity in 2014; he had never even coached at international level
before.

But, like every other Brazilian, he had been marked by the loss to Germany. “I was watching at home with my wife and, after the third goal went in, she started to cry,” he told reporters earlier this year.

“That started me off. “The 7-1 is like a ghost. It’s present. People still talk about it, but the more you talk about it, the less likely it is that the ‘ghost’ disappears.”

There was no avoiding talk of Germany, though, at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, as the two teams met in the final of the one international tournament Brazil had never previously won.

Neymar, who had skipped that summer’s Copa America in pursuit of a gold medal, put his country ahead in the decider but Max Meyer’s equaliser forced penalties.

It was 4-4 when Nils Petersen saw his spot-kick saved by Weverton. Who was to take Brazil’s fifth penalty? Neymar, of course.

He walked forward, picked up the ball, kissed it and placed it carefully on the spot. He took a long, staggered run-up before sending Timo Horn the wrong way – and the crowd into ecstasy.

The tears were streaming down Neymar’s face before his knees had even hit the ground. This wasn’t joy; it was relief, and better yet, redemption. And not just for him, for an entire country. It was a restoration of national
pride.

Let’