As Brazil’s supporters wandered in their thousands around the wide avenues of Belo Horizonte late into the night, it was as if the full realisation of the events that had unfolded at Estadio Mineirao had yet to sink in.
They had witnessed an occasion that will be remembered whenever the World Cup is played; perhaps, in a country that lives off the pride created by this sport, whenever it is even mentioned.
Brazil’s World Cup was the opportunity to expunge the memory of the darkest day in their sporting story, namely 1950’s “Maracanazo” when Uruguay won 2-1 at the Maracana to take the trophy from a host side who had seemed certain to be crowned champions.
Instead, they suffered the worst defeat in their history, Germany’s 7-1 rout of Brazil in this World Cup semi-final a chapter just as dark as that day in Rio 64 years ago. The country’s media were in no doubt. GloboEsporte’s headline called it “The Disgrace Of All Disgraces”. For the sports paper Lance! it was “The Biggest Shame In History”.
There was a heavy police presence on the streets of this city in the hours after the game – but the majority of Brazil supporters were in no mood for rebellion. This is currently a nation in shock.
At the back of Brazil’s consciousness, there was always the fear Luiz Felipe Scolari’s team might not deliver the World Cup this country had paid so handsomely, and so contentiously, to stage.
But no-one imagined it could be like this – so brutal, so humiliating. It was defeat on such a scale, inflicted on Brazil on the world stage and in their own country, that it will be a landmark moment in the game’s history.
The nation that treasures its World Cup memories, from Pele in Sweden in 1958 to the iconic 1970 team in Mexico and on to Japan and Ronaldo in 2002, now has an unwanted addition to its record books.
When Germany went 5-0 up inside half an hour – with four of the goals coming inside six desperate, chaotic minutes – those books were being thumbed, and produced the most unwelcome of comparisons. Brazil were only the third team at a World Cup to trail by five or more goals at half-time – joining the select company of Haiti and Zaire.
It took that half-time whistle to bring the first angry reaction from the home fans. Until that point, around 60,000 Brazilians in the stadium – like many of the nation of 200 million they represented, no doubt – had been like horrified bystanders as a scene of carnage unfolded before them. It was almost unreal.
Scolari, a World Cup winner that night in Yokohama in 2002, was left pleading for Brazil’s forgiveness in a post-match briefing that was more loaded with pity than hostility. Give it time, though, and that mood will change. The legendary coach, who could not resist trying to revisit old successes with a second spell in charge, has been brought to his knees.
How different from the hours before the game. Fireworks were heard in the centre of Belo Horizonte from early morning, and fans gathered at the stadium hours before kick-off to claim prized places near barriers where they could form a guard of honour for Brazil’s team. This was the so-called “sixth step” en route to the Maracana.
Their star striker and talisman, Neymar, was absent through injury but present in spirit – and perhaps this went to the heart of Brazil’s problems.
Scolari bounded off the team coach wearing a white “Forca Neymar” baseball cap while captain David Luiz and goalkeeper Julio Cesar held up his number 10 shirt during the national anthem.
Fine sentiments perhaps, but also a sign of overwrought emotions, of the pressure of playing without their superstar and the doubts that exposed. The constant hugging and team bonding smacked more of insecurity and posturing. Germany in contrast were cold, clinical, magnificent.
And the truth was that it was actually suspended captain and key Thiago Silva who was most missed. Without him Brazil crumbled – without him Luiz was exposed as an undisciplined defensive liability.
When Brazil wakes up to the morning after the nightmare before, the recriminations will start in full. They had already begun in Estadio Mineirao as striker Fred was viciously abused and Brazil’s fans, rather like this game, turned logic on its head by starting to support Germany.
Gustavo Eduardo Poli, from TV Globo, told BBC Sport: “There will be anger. There is anger already but we don’t know the full reaction. It is a matter of great pride for us to have the World Cup here and it has been fantastic. People talked about how infrastructure wouldn’t be ready, it would be a disaster, but it was not – but this was appalling.”
As for Scolari, Poli believes this will be a night that will alter how history and Brazil recalls the 65-year-old.
“The difference for him is that he has won the World Cup in 2002 and that offers protection,” he said. “In Brazil everybody that wins something like the World Cup has credit forever – but he has lost some of his credit with this kind of defeat.
“His history has changed, and in some ways Brazilian football’s history has changed, but this is the risk he had when he accepted the job.
“Nobody ever, ever imagined a Brazil team losing like this in Brazil. Which host team lost like that? If the World Cup has been fantastic, we must also say Brazil’s football history has taken a very tough hit.”
The statistics make miserable reading for Scolari and Brazil.
This was their first competitive home defeat for 39 years, and first loss in any home game for 12. But it was the scale and the manner of it that were unthinkable. Their previous heaviest World Cup defeat was the 3-0 loss to France in the 1998 final. They had never previously conceded more than five goals in a World Cup – and even then they won 6-5 against Poland in 1938.
Daniel Ottoni, from Belo Horizonte-based newspaper O Tempo, said: “It is the worst fail in Brazil’s history. No-one thought this possible. Not here. Not in Brazil.
“People are already angry and embarrassed. In a moment like this, when so desperate, people can do anything because football means so much to people in Brazil.
“Tomorrow, though, people have to wake up early, go to work, pay the bills and life must go on. We must understand football is our great passion but life goes on.”
Scolari will surely end his reign after the third-placed play-off. How can he survive? This was the man who told the world he and Brazil had one hand on the trophy before the quarter-final win against Colombia.
Now all they have left from Brazil’s World Cup 2014 is the most bitter, most painful sporting memory they and this country may ever have.