Keith Strudler: A World Cup Blowout
Having played my share of youth soccer, the vast majority for the JCC, I’m well familiar with blowout losses. We once lost a game 14-0. I’ve seen countless scores that looked like they were from football – the American kind. And now that I’m paying attention to underage soccer once again, this time for my kids, I’ve grown to accept that soccer can be a lot like an episode of Dallas. A lot of scoring, and hard to watch.
Apparently that’s not the case in World Cup soccer, where the social norms are quite different than those at the town park. Such was confirmed yesterday, when the home favorite Brazilian squad lost their semifinal match 7-1 to the Germans, who will now compete in their eight World Cup final. Germany scored five goals in the first half hour, while the Brazilians didn’t score their lone goal until the 89th minute, when I believe most of the German squad was already at dinner.
This is one of the worst losses not only in Brazilian World Cup history, but in the history of the event, especially for a semifinal match. It will be the lasting taste in the Brazilian palate, regardless of what happens in the event’s 3rd place consolation match. And it returns the nation’s conscious away from the team’s success and back to the reality of debt and poverty exacerbated by hosting the event. The Brazilian blowout wasn’t just a bad loss. It’s the start of an even worse hangover.
It’s unclear if Brazilian coach Luiz Scolari will return as the national coach, or, to be honest, if he’s even allowed to still live in Brazil. All the rational excuses – it’s a young team, they were missing two of their best players, Germany’s pretty good – are lost on a nation that sees championship soccer as a birthright. And since soccer is a place where nuance is everything, losing by six goals is beyond the pale. If soccer is the beautiful game, then yesterday’s performance was outright hideous.
The Brazilian team and coach have already asked their nation for forgiveness, something that’ s not likely granted anytime soon. Even a World Cup title in 2018 won’t erase the fact that they were embarrassed on their home turf. That is the sad reality of sports. You can never take anything back. Just ask Chris Weber about that timeout he called in the 1993 national championship game. That stays with him forever.
Obviously, there’s a story of perspective here. What would have been a remarkable run for the American team – making the semifinals – is deemed a failure for the Brazilians. That’s the challenge of expectation, something that makes victory more relief than joy.
It’s also a reminder that the closer one comes to glory, the harder it is to accept defeat. I’d argue losing in the finals at Wimbledon is much tougher than a first round exit, even if it’s also far more impressive. The closer you come, the more you consider what winning feels like. Multiply that times the vested self-esteem of the Brazilian people in soccer, and you have a recipe for heartache.
But lastly, this defeat and its aftershocks speak to the idea that sport, and clearly soccer, is more complex than we might believe. The Brazilian fans aren’t mad because their teams simply lost. They’re mad because they were embarrassed. For many sports fans, playing sport, particularly playing sport for your country, is a means of expressing honor and dignity. Where effort is a sign of respect for your people, your nation, and for the role of sport in all of that. It’s why we watch the Olympics in the first place, and why people tear up when they play the national anthem at the medal stand. So when Brazil allowed four goals in six minutes of the first half, it was more than bad soccer. It was treason. For everyone that thinks sports operate in a binomial mindless world of wins and losses, give fans more credit than that. Certainly in Brazil right now, they recognize there are good losses and bad ones – and this one is awful.
Now whether this applies more to soccer than other sports is worth considering, where a 0-0 match can be deemed beautiful and compelling. I’m not sure if Jets fans would take solace in close playoff loss any more than a blowout. And I can’t say how much location and the enormous fiscal investment put into the Cup have clouded the Brazilian reaction. But, I can say this. This Brazilian loss was more than just a loss. And like a lot of youth soccer, it was very hard to watch.
Keith Strudler is the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and an associate professor of communication. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler
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