Still reeling from their crushing 7-1 semi-final defeat by Germany at the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ just four days earlier, Brazil were nonetheless determined to shake off their disappointment ahead of the play-off for third place against the Netherlands. Yet the Dutch – unbeaten in open play at this competition – gave them no time to ease back into their stride, Robin van Persie thumping home a third-minute penalty to send A Seleção Brasileira reeling once more.
Though Brazil did manage to get their heads up, running and battling hard, they were unable to prevent the Oranje inflicting another reverse – this time 3-0 – in a continuation of the nightmare conclusion to this competition began by the Germans back in Belo Horizonte. And as they left the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia, the venue which had witnessed their 4-1 win over Cameroon in the group phase, the players did their best to find answers, lessons to be learned and crumbs of comfort to be taken from a gruelling 180 minutes of football.
Even with Maxwell, Willian, Ramires and Jo brought into the starting XI, the team that played in Brasilia remained weighed down by their demolition by Die Nationalmannschaft. “What went wrong was that semi-final, which hit us really hard,” said David Luiz, Brazil’s captain against Germany, speaking to FIFA.
“We weren’t expecting it,” he continued. “We went into the game having had a very good competition, with the team growing in stature and morale high after beating Chile like that [on penalties] and a great performance against Colombia. Then suddenly came that almighty blow which sent everyone reeling. It was the end of a dream for us and bouncing back from that is very tough. Today we started the game wanting to win it only to concede a goal right away, which brought all those [negative] sensations flooding back. We still tried to get back into it and were on top for spells, but we couldn’t get a goal.”
Hulk, who had started all of Brazil’s previous games, came off the bench during the second period versus Louis van Gaal’s charges. “To concede ten goals in two games is inexplicable,” said the FC Zenit St. Petersburg wide-man. “We realise what has happened, but we’re all people, well aware that we’ve made mistakes. We’re going to keep working hard. A Seleção will get back to bringing joy to Brazilians once more.”
Paulinho, meanwhile, initially a starter at Brazil 2014 only to lose his place to Fernandinho, was back in the first XI this Saturday. “It’s too soon to find an explanation, it’s still so fresh, but football’s like this,” he said, on leaving the pitch in Brasilia. “Of course we wanted to be crowned world champions on home soil, but these things happen in football. And of course it’s sad. That defeat against Germany will be remembered for years, but life has to go on.”
Another who began the campaign a first-choice before subsequently losing his place, in his case to Maicon, right-back Daniel Alves’ insight echoed that of his colleagues. “We couldn’t get back up after that blow. It was really hard. Finishing off the World Cup like that isn’t what we wanted, but in life you have to put these things down to experience and use it in the future. In general terms there were some very good things and some very bad ones, but the lessons we learn will stick with us so that, next time, we’ll be that bit more mature and experienced.”
For a national team used to success and with a record five world titles in its trophy cabinet, drawing a line under a World Cup campaign is never taken lightly. Even more so when said campaign comes to an end on home soil accompanied by, in this case, the boos and jeers of your own fans. Moving on from the Germany loss, so emphatic was the performance and the result, will not be easy but it is now down to A Seleção to go over what went wrong, unearth the answers that matter and find fresh hope for future.