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Soccer-Hard reality sets in for Brazil fans after World Cup flop

Reuters

By Alonso Soto

BRASILIA, July 12 (Reuters) - The last place Brazilians expected to be embarrassed in the World Cup was on the pitch.

But that's precisely what happened for the second straight game on Saturday as Brazil bowed out of the tournament after losing 3-0 to the Netherlands.

Local fans at Brasilia's Mane Garrincha stadium were left scratching their heads, wondering what happened to their once-feared national team.

"I came here hoping we were going to win and restore our pride. That didn't happen," said psychologist Renata Barros.

She was one of thousands of Brazilians who turned out for the third-place playoff match, willing to give the team one more chance even after Tuesday's humbling 7-1 meltdown against Germany, Brazil's first loss in a competitive match at home in almost 40 years.

Now, the country's consecutive failures threaten to spoil a tournament that exceeded everyone's expectations after facing criticism for repeated delays in building stadiums and other infrastructure, much of it also way over budget.

"It was the other way around - things worked fine outside of the soccer field; our team was the real disappointment," said Robson Cintra, an electrical engineer.

After dreams of playing in Sunday's final were crushed, many Brazilians could not even bear to watch Saturday's game.

Bars in major cities that had been standing room only a week ago were all but empty. Some die-hard Brazil fans even swapped stories on Facebook about what they would do instead of watching what they rightly feared would be another embarrassment.

Inside the stadium, however, the mood remained festive with fans cheering loudly for Brazil even after Robin van Persie's third minute penalty put the Dutch ahead.

But any hopes of a comeback seemed to vanish when Daley Blind put the Netherlands up by two goals at the 16-minute mark, leaving the stadium silent.

By the end, Brazilians were applauding the Dutch team's cool control of the game and wondering about the future of soccer in what many consider the sport's spiritual home.

"Bring back Pele," read one sign held up by a fan, a reference to the legendary player who won three World Cups with Brazil.

Though fans cheered for their players before the match, especially when an image was shown of star forward Neymar who was on the sidelines with a back injury, they loudly booed coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.

It was Scolari who led Brazil to a record fifth World Cup title in 2002, and the Brazilian football confederation brought him back before this Cup in the hope that he could work his magic again on home soil.

But this Brazil team never quite gelled and showed itself to be too dependent on Neymar's remarkable talents, prompting fans and local sports commentators to turn against Scolari.

Many are calling for his resignation, and some are even urging Brazil to bring in a foreign coach for the first time in its proud soccer history.

"This shows that Brazilian soccer needs to change," said Airton Vantas, a government employee and fed up fan. (Writing by Caroline Stauffer and Todd Benson)

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