Pressure on Brazil enough to make a grown man cry

The World Cup is more than just another tournament for Brazil

Before Brazil faced Chile the team's coach Felipão had said that if his side lost, life would go on and no one would need to throw themselves down a well.

But his players’ body language told a different story altogether and none more so than that of their captain. All through the penalty shoot-out Thiago Silva looked an emotional wreck. Supposedly one of the squad’s strongest personalities, he did not even take part in a huddle for one last team talk before its fate was decided, sitting off on his own lost in thought.

When Brazil survived to fight another day he completely broke down, having to be comforted by the squad's technical staff. If this is the state of him when his team sneaks into the quarter-finals, it is hard to imagine what he will be like if he actually has to lift the trophy on July 13th.

With former Seleção players calling for the current generation to get a grip, the fragile emotional state of Brazil's players is now a serious concern for the country's fans and journalists. As several sports writers have noticed no one wants to be the new Moacyr Barbosa, the goalkeeper scapegoated for the country's calamitous defeat when it last hosted the tournament in 1950.


‘Mongrel complex’

Since then Brazil was supposed to have slayed that ghost, overcoming its ‘mongrel complex’ with five world titles. But the huge pressure the team is under once again demonstrates how football has always been secondary for many Brazilians when it comes to World Cups.

In previous tournaments there has been little curiosity about the event beyond the national team. After Brazil was eliminated from the last two editions, interest in the rest of the football largely died.

Even a glamorous semi-final between Italy and Germany is relegated to cable and fails to drum up much public interest. Brazilian cities become as enthused about proceedings as towns in the US Midwest.

This year the presence of foreign fans has generated more of a World Cup buzz beyond the days when the Seleção plays and the fact that the country is hosting the tournament might help maintain enthusiasm beyond a possible early exit for the team. But with many visitors now leaving following their teams' elimination it is a reasonable to state that the Mineirão crossbar has given this 'greatest World Cup ever' another week of life.

Much more than the risk of the dying embers of the anti-Cup protest movement suddenly flaring into life this is the likeliest outcome of an early Brazil elimination – a sudden plummeting of local interest in its own tournament.

Because the truth is Brazil, as a country, is not really that bothered about the World Cup as a tournament per se. What really matters is Brazil’s participation in the event and not always for footballing reasons.

National pride

This is a big country painfully conscious that in most fields it punches far below its weight. That is why so much is invested in the Seleção. It is a moment for national pride in something the country does better than anything else.

For many fans in the stadium and presenters on the main television networks, it is an opportunity to indulge in ufanismo – an excessive jingoism in its team that somehow must compensate for all the country's other failings.

The anthem is the clue here. Much has been made of the passion with which the Brazilian crowd have sung their national hymn before each game. But once the game is under way they lack anything near the variety of songs and chants that other nations’ fans have brought to the tournament, or for that matter, the fans of Brazilian club sides.

An interesting survey would be to ask Brazilians attending Seleção matches at the World Cup how many domestic league games they attended in the past year. The answer would be interesting because the Seleção crowd is largely rich and white when that at Brazilian league games is typically poorer and darker.

During the tournament this public's lack of understanding about the ebb and flow of matches and the home support's role in trying to influence them, instead transmitting nervousness and confusion when events on the field look set to deny it its chance at glory, reveals many of those present in the stadium are not regular fans but rather petty ufanistas.

And the cruel flip-side to the orgy of ufanismo that will break out should Brazil win is Moacyr Barbosa, ostracised until his death, known as the man who made Brazil cry, even refused entry to the training camp where Brazil was preparing for the 1994 World Cup lest he curse it.

Perhaps it is only to be expected that Thiago Silva is so emotionally overwrought when history teaches him that should Brazil fail to win the trophy at home, he too risks being marked out for decades as the man who failed Brazil.

"The pressure the players are under to win has no parallel in the history of Brazilian football," wrote Eduardo Tironi in Lance! "The terror of being the Barbosa of 2014 must be a daily nightmare for all of them, some still just kids. It is unhuman and unjust."It is enough to make you root for the team.

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South America