BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil – If you saw the game on television, no, you didn't imagine it. If you didn't watch it but heard about it, the rumors are true.
Brazil really did concede five goals in the first half hour of its World Cup semifinal against Germany. It really did get dumped out of the tournament 7-1. The dream really did end in little more than a heartbeat because of a devastating burst of brilliant attacking and utterly inept defending to form the most extraordinary outcome of all.
The World Cup is magical, the sort of thing that everyone should sample at least once in their lifetime. But not like this. Unless you are a diehard Germany fan you were lucky not to be here at the Estadio Mineirao as perhaps the proudest soccer nation of all was humiliated and had its heart shredded.
Everywhere you looked there were tears. They rolled down the faces of small bespectacled boys and anguished old ladies and through the face paint of the hopeful masses who dreamed – no, expected – so, so much more.
Losing is one thing. Losing at home is another. Brazil could have, just about, handled either of those things. But this was another level of suffering. This was torture. This was being smashed out of sight in your home World Cup and being powerless to stop it.
The crowd, which before kickoff had given the most spine-tingling rendition of a national anthem that you could imagine, was first silenced, then outraged. The positive and patriotic songs and chants stopped, replaced by jeers and whistles.
An elderly man cradled a replica of the World Cup trophy in his arms, knowing it was gone, knowing he would have to give it up. Minutes later, he walked over to a surprised German supporter and gave it to him with a solemn nod.
A woman with yellow- and green-painted fingernails, a Brazil jersey, Brazil phone case, Brazil scarf and Brazil flag wailed as she spoke on the telephone at halftime.
A man stamped his feet and screamed. He picked up his Incredible Hulk mask, a tribute to Brazil winger Hulk, and threw it on the ground.
"My message is for the Brazilian people and to Brazilian fans. Please forgive us for this negative mistake," said Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who took the blame for the embarrassing defeat. "I am sorry we weren't able to get to the final. This is a catastrophic, terrible loss, the worst loss. We have to deal with that."
This tournament is not done, of course, and Germany's seven goals here will count for nothing in Sunday's final, where it will have to produce something special all over again against either Argentina or the Netherlands.
But it is done for Brazil, even with a third-place game that no one ever much cares about still to come. They might as well call the game off. This country, of all places in the world, wants to forget about soccer for a while and focus on getting angry at a president it doesn't like and social problems it is sick of.
The last and only previous time Brazil hosted the World Cup, in 1950, it created a scar that has lingered to this day. Losing to Uruguay in the final game is still considered a stain on its soccer history, a blot on the national identity. That result was 2-1 and goalkeeper Barbosa spoke in his old age of having served a life sentence of torment because of it, having been shunned and ridiculed to his dying day.
Goodness knows what they will make of this. Tragedy and disaster are words that should be reserved for real trauma, not those that take place on a field of sporting endeavor.
But make no mistake, there will be a sense of mourning in this country that will be slow to dissipate. For all of Brazil's great economic strides, it is not, or at least not yet, a major world power. This is a country that prides itself on its soccer. It is not just known for it but revered for it. Or was.
The Samba beat was crushed by a machine of such efficiency that it defied belief. But Brazil was also the architect of its own demise, and that was the hardest part for the locals to bear. There was David Luiz's negligent defending. Luis Gustavo's midfield stumbles. Julio Cesar's unsure hands. Fred's clumsiness. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari's lack of any answer.
The occasional lapse can sometimes be the sacrifice for flair and productivity. Given that, there was none of the latter, there was no forgiveness. The thousands of gold-shirted attendees started to deride every mistake, lambasting those whose faces adorn billboards all across this land, who just a little earlier had been the sons of a generation and the hope of a nation.
Right near the end, there was a different noise, one of mocking and irony, with the Belo Horizonte crowd snidely cheering any positive play, even the most simple of passes. Then it stood to applaud Germany and chant "Ole" for each of the clinical Germans' passing maneuvers.
It made you blink to check it was real. It was. It made you question whether this was really happening in Brazil. It was.
It was painful and raw and gut-wrenching. It was carnage and every emotion you can think of, from regret to pity to anger to fear. It was understandable and inevitable and embarrassing.
And finally, it was over, the clock having ticked to 90 minutes. Meanwhile, the timer was set on a new clock, one that will measure the years of pain and sorrow until this is forgotten. It might run forever.
- Sports & Recreation
- World Cup 2014
- BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil