I could not believe my ears Tuesday. From an American perspective, I tuned into the Germany-Brazil match with a clear agenda: I would root for Brazil. Like most non-Germans, I hoped the host nation, which had shown so much emotion throughout this FIFA World Cup, could pull out another narrow victory. Any objective person knew the odds were in Germany's favor, but I hoped for the best.
I did not know Brazilian fans would relentlessly boo their team.
I get it. In Brazil, the World Cup is like a Ricky Bobby NASCAR race. If you are not first, you are last. But does last always mean time to boo, even if the result is 7-1?
Like many people, in early June, I expected Brazil to be among the championship contenders at this year's World Cup. The nation entered the tournament one year removed from a FIFA Confederations Cup title. Brazil had the depth of veteran stars Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Hulk, Fred, Marcelo and Julio Cesar. Along with the youth of Neymar and Oscar, and the guidance of Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, no one would be blamed for picking Brazil to go all the way.
Then came the tournament.
Brazil stumbled past Croatia thanks to arguably the worst call of the World Cup to win the tournament's opening match, 2-1. Brazil then drew against upstart Mexico, 0-0, before navigating through a poor Cameroon squad, 4-1.
In the Round of 16 against Chile, Brazil needed penalty kicks in a 1-1 match to get by a fellow South American nation it had not lost to since 2000. Chile dinged a prime opportunity off the crossbar and was robbed in penalty kicks by the post. Brazil also nearly had its heart picked against Colombia, as James Rodriguez and friends had a goal disallowed that may have sent the 2-1 game into extra time.
When the Brazilians arrived in Belo Horizonte, they were run down. The squad slipped past lesser opponents by the skin of its teeth, and powerhouse Germany loomed. Neymar and Thiago Silva, the nation's top scorer and its captain, were to miss the match for an already suspect roster.
No one was expecting a 7-1 result. Brazil could have sent out its U-23 Team and no one would have expected a 7-1 scoreboard. That was ridiculous.
But it cannot be entirely unexpected. This Brazil squad was not the team we expected. It showed that in its first five games. Thanks to a favorable draw that put Brazil in a below average group, followed by two knockout stage matches against familiar CONMEBOL foes, Brazil was able to twist into the semifinals. It was clear Brazil was not one of the top four teams in the tournament. And that was before it lost its two stars.
Meanwhile, Germany looked the part of a semifinals contender. The Germans embarrassed Portugal and the current Ballon d'Or winner, Cristiano Ronaldo, 4-0, and held firm against Ghana and the United States with 2-2 and 1-0 results, respectively. They knocked off a feisty Algeria team, 2-1, before breaking down France, 1-0. (By the way, if Germany is the best team in this World Cup, could France be the second-best?)
It hurts, Brazil. A 7-1 semifinal blowout was not on the radar in early June. But a sound defeat to Germany could have been expected come early July.
Maybe I am crazy, but it did not look like Brazil played without heart. The emotion during the match was clear from players such as David Luiz and Julio Cesar. The image of Thiago Silva, in street clothes, comforting David Luiz is a World Cup picture I will commit to memory.
We saw it from Neymar's video and Scolari's expressions. These guys wanted to win. They wanted to bring a title home to their country in a tournament on Brazilian turf. They wanted to be heroes, as five past Green and Yellow World Cup Teams were.
Unfortunately for the players, coaches and fans, this team was closer in comparison to 2002 South Korea, a host nation that willed itself to the semifinals, than a past Brazilian champ. The offense had trouble finishing, even with Neymar. The midfield was inconsistent and the defense could not close up holes. Julio Cesar played with dignity, but his best days are long gone. All of this was a recipe for disaster against a Germany team looking like it may go down as one of the greatest World Cup teams of all-time.
It was hard to watch a team that played with so much heart in front of its host crowd for three and a half weeks get booed off the pitch. From a broad Brazil soccer history perspective, it looks like the team underperformed at home this World Cup. From an objective eye, it looks like this team overstayed its welcome before falling to a loaded roster. The players gave it everything they had for their country, and there is not more than can be asked.
After watching nations such as Algeria and Colombia treat their returnees like royalty, it is a shame Brazil reacted the way it did. David Luiz, Julio Cesar and Hulk are some of the classiest soccer players in the world and were model citizens throughout the World Cup.
The Yankees are a good comparison to Brazilian soccer. As a Yankee fan, I expect the team to compete for a World Series title every year. Although the roster is not always dominant, every Yankees team appears to have the ingredients to string together a championship run. In a year such as 2009, when the Yankees finished with the best regular-season record in baseball and never faced elimination in the playoffs, I would have been disappointed not to see the Yankees in the Canyon of Heroes.
However, in a season such as 2012, the circumstances were different. The Yankees again finished with the best record in the American League, but they were hampered come playoff time. The Yankees squeezed past the rival Orioles three games to two in the ALDS. However, Alex Rodriguez looked lost in the series (it turned out he needed hip surgery) and Derek Jeter fractured his ankle in the first game of the ALCS. While Yankees fans still believed the team's role players could step up and make a World Series run, no one was surprised when the Tigers swept the series. The Yankees were clearly not a top playoff team even before losing their leader and their best hitter's disappearance. That team did not deserve to be booed.
On a more recent note, the Brazil soccer team is like the 2013-14 Indiana Pacers ... if Paul George and David West (not Roy Hibbert in this 2014 test case) both missed the Eastern Conference Finals. The Pacers, who many people thought could overthrow the Heat in April, looked brutal through the first two rounds of the playoffs. A favorable bracket helped get Indiana to the Conference Finals, but the Heat disposed of the Pacers handily in six games. By the time the series was underway, not even Pacers fans were placing bets on this team.
It is one thing to boo a team that overspends and underperforms or an opposing player who spurred the home team for more money elsewhere. It is another thing to boo a World Cup host nation that poured its heart into the World Cup, but was not actually as good as people expected, and actually overstayed their welcome.
Sure, it is an embarrassing loss for a soccer-obsessed nation, but no one thinks less of Brazil. Anyone who watched the World Cup recognizes Germany is a super team and Brazil was disguised as an underdog.
Brazil and soccer's greatest star, Pele, is credited with the term "The Beautiful Game." It is a shame his nation turned it into a "Boo-tiful Game" on Tuesday. The Brazilian players did not deserve that.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.
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