By Brian Winter
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - For many Brazilians, Tuesday's humiliating 7-1 loss to Germany accomplished the unthinkable - a disaster even worse than the last time the country hosted the World Cup, in 1950.
Back then, it was a 2-1 loss to tiny Uruguay in the final, a massive upset that still brings tears to the eyes of older Brazilians.
This defeat may have been even more scarring, some fans said, because the final result was not even close. Brazil's team was torn to shreds.
Anger and disappointment were so intense that it threatened to darken the national mood for some time to come, with possible consequences for President Dilma Rousseff as she seeks a second term in October.
"This is worse than 1950. It's one thing to lose a game where you suffered and fought hard, and it's another to be completely humiliated," said Fernando Hazzan, 28, in Sao Paulo.
"This game is going down in history, too," he said.
Many Brazilians at the stadium in Belo Horizonte sobbed, while others began streaming out before the first half was over.
Those at bars and restaurants around the country cried or screamed at the television, or drowned their sorrows in beer.
Rousseff said on Twitter that she was "very, very sad ... just like all Brazilians."
"I'm immensely sorry for all of us, our fans and players," she said. "But let's not let ourselves give up. Brazil, get up, dust yourself off and bounce back."
The inability to win a World Cup on home turf will remain a black spot for a country that has one of soccer's proudest traditions - with five World Cup championships, more than any other nation.
Soccer is a key part of the national identity and is so often a source of immense pride.
The losing Brazilian team from 1950 suffered fallout for years, even decades.
Zizinho, a midfielder, took the phone off the hook every year on the anniversary of the game because people would call asking why the team lost. Barbosa, the goalkeeper, famously complained that he suffered for more than 30 years, equal to the maximum criminal sentence in Brazil.
PRESSURE WAS TOO MUCH
The psychological pressure of trying to reverse that curse took its toll on the 2014 team, and may have explained the defensive breakdowns that led to Germany scoring five goals within the first 30 minutes of the match on Tuesday.
"We panicked a little bit and things went Germany's way," Brazil's coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who led the team to its last title, in 2002. He said after the game that Tuesday's was "the worst defeat Brazil has ever had."
David Luiz, Brazil's star defender, was among the players who apologized to the nation on TV just after the game.
"I just wanted to make my people happy," he said, sobbing. "Unfortunately we couldn't."
The lopsided loss, the biggest margin ever in a World Cup semi-final, obscured what has been an otherwise surprisingly successful tournament.
While the lead-in to the World Cup was marked by doomsday predictions that stadiums and airports would not be ready on time, prior to Tuesday they had been drowned out by congratulatory talk about the hospitality of Brazilians and the high quality of play on the field.
Indeed, the tournament has not seen a repeat of the protests of last June, when more than 1 million Brazilians took to the streets to protest money being spent to host the World Cup, among other grievances. Most demonstrations over the last month have gathered only a few hundred people.
Streets were mostly calm following Tuesday night's game, although security was beefed up around the stadium in Belo Horizonte and other places around the country.
Nevertheless, some fans said the rout would radically change the way they saw the whole tournament.
"The memory of this World Cup will always be tarnished now. It will be remembered as a tragedy," Michelle Gomes, a local business manager, said at a bar in Rio de Janeiro.
Brazil has won the World Cup on three continents, once in Europe, once in Asia and three times in the Americas - but never at home.
The darkened mood could dent President Rousseff's approval rating, although the effect might only be temporary, said Claudio Couto, a political science professor in Sao Paulo.
"If we (took the poll) in a month, I doubt that it will have any effect," he said.
Those who suffered through both landmark games didn't have quite the same perspective - at least not yet.
"It's a humiliation," said Lourdes Moura, 88, who was a medical student in 1950 when Brazil lost. "Back then I cried, really cried. Right now I'm furious."
(Reporting by Asher Levine and Alberto Alerigi Jr., and Stephen Eisenhammer and Jeb Blount in Rio de Janeiro, Editing by Todd Benson, Kieran Murray and Ken Wills)