On the penultimate day of the World Cup we traveled to Brasilia for the third/fourth place play-off, between Brazil and Holland. Twelve hours in Brazil’s capital, of which I had high hopes. Brasilia is unfortunately an unrelentingly boring city. Unless you have a particular interest in tarmac and fly-overs – or you get a real kick out of grid like systems, I cannot in sound mind, possibly recommend it.
Founded in 1960 as the countries new capital it carries a well constructed feel to it. The roads have been given such imaginative names as L2 North – and its equally dull, yet unsurprisingly more southern sister – L2 South. The names given to areas of the city are just as bad. Northern Commercial Sector. Southern Hotel District. Even the mildly interesting sounding Northern Super-quadrant 201 revealed nothing but gun to the head kind of dullness.
We headed towards the long green strip that cuts through the city, on which it appeared most of the main sites were situated. I had visions of a grand ‘Washington D.C Mall’ type situation. It started brightly, with an impressive fountain – but quickly became apparent the area was almost completely empty. There was nothing. Large boisterous, but impeccably plain and dull hotels lined both sides. People milled around, hoping for a little excitement in some form or another – the fools. We headed south to the cathedral. The heat beat down mercilessly on us – was this in fact hell?
Points of interests thankfully came into view. A large dome, which is the city art museum – and also carried a hefty line outside – and the cathedral, a wonderful modernist structure that couldn’t have been in bigger contrast to what we had seen. Outside more bleakness stretched in all direction. Each ministry has its own building, each one exactly the same, bar the silver lettering on the side. It looked like something Moscow would have commissioned sometime in the fifties. It made me think of an apocalyptic hell for some reason – perhaps even Chernobyl. The people who planned this should be ashamed of themselves. The most interesting thing we saw in the area – bar the Cathedral – was a few dried flower stalls. And I have absolutely no interest in dried flowers.
We caught a taxi to Pontao Do Lago Sul for lunch. A pleasant spot next to the lake, where we ate, drank, listened to a live band – and watched the nearly all female bike gang next to us attempt to relieve the bar of any alcohol. One came over to explain to us about the band. Perhaps Brasilia’s population feel so awful that tourists are subjected to the place, that they make the extra effort with you – either way, we all agreed it was very nice of her
We arrived at the stadium a few hours later. A wonderful neo-grec structure – long pillars reaching skyward – you feel you are entering they gates of Olympus rather than a football stadium.
Despite Brazil abomination in their semi final – the crowd was in good spirits. Rivers of yellow poured into the stadium from all directions. Samba bands played, a group of young cheerleaders were attempting to raise money for their school. The police were in relaxed mood. As were their horses, who pooed wherever they wished. Forty-five minutes before kick off the crowd sat expectantly. We were unsure how the underachievers would be greeted. The big screen suddenly showed the injured Neymar making his way slowly down the tunnel. A deafening roar erupted – he met his team mates and they entered the cauldron of noise together. I didn’t think the roar could intensify any more – but it went up further.
The national anthem was a true goose-bumping moment. As seen throughout the World Cup, the Brazilian anthem went on long after the music had stopped. The crowd pounding out every word. As it reached its crescendo the camera fell on one of the mascots – a young girl, her face contorted in a fiery roar. Her passion almost bringing her to tears. Brazilian pride was bruised and battered – but they were going to go down fighting.
It quickly became apparent that pride counts for nothing if coupled with complete ineptitude. Within two minutes Brazil were a goal down. Their captain fortunate not to be sent of after conceding a penalty – surely the referee knew he couldn’t do such a thing.
Yet still they sang, and sang and sang. Their passion truly admirable as they willed on their hopeless heroes.
Holland scored again. The songs began to die down. Half time was greeted with a vicious volley of boos. All the will in the world couldn’t help this group of Brazilians – by far the worse I have known in my twenty-nine years. At full-time they were three goals down. The players hastily retreated as the anger poured down from the stands.
The Dutch team were presented medals for their third place – surely a hollow act considering how close they were to the final – but they gave the fans a lap of honour, and the remaining supporters reciprocated with warm applause. They knew they had witnessed yet another team who are light years ahead of their own.
Brazilians trudged out of the stadium that night, many with their heads down – mutterings could be heard. The squad will take the blame for this – but in reality this trauma has been years in the making. A nation with Brazil’s pedigree, and history, should never have to put a squad like that forward at a major tournament – let alone a World Cup in Brazil. Under prepared and completely inadequate. Perhaps they will have to look back to 2001, when a truly awful German team were badly beaten by England on home soil. It was a national embarrassment – a full overhaul swung into effect. It took time, but thirteen years later they were about to once again play in a World Cup final.