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Tokyo Olympics: How Brazil went from 2014 World Cup humiliation to 2016 Rio glory

A country with a rich footballing heritage and culture such as Brazil is accustomed to rejoicing in the glory of tournaments won and worldwide admiration of its conveyor belt of talent.

But when the aberration of a humiliating 7-1 defeat against Germany on home soil comes along in a World Cup semi-final, the fallout in a nation which intently watches every move of every member of the playing squad is magnified ten-fold.

That chastening night seven years ago in Belo Horizonte against Joachim Low’s eventual world champions saw Brazil’s hopes of a sixth World Cup crown crumble to the ground in spectacular fashion.

Oscar and Luiz Felipe Scolari look dejected after Brazil lost 7-1 to Germany in 2014 World Cup

David Luiz was blamed for many of the goals as the hosts exited at the semi-final stage

‘The 7-1 at the World Cup is like a ghost,’ current boss Tite told Kicker four years later.

‘It’s present, people still talk about it, but the more you talk about it, the less this ”ghost” disappears.’ 

Statistics, however, will ensure the spectral atmosphere that surrounds that fateful evening in July 2014 continues for some while yet.

Germany were 5-0 ahead within half an hour inside a stunned Estadio Mineirao as Miroslav Klose became the all-time World Cup record goalscorer, while the end result was Brazil’s first home defeat in 12 years and their first competitive reverse on home soil in 39 years.

Without the injured Neymar and the suspended Thiago Silva, the beleaguered hosts recorded their heaviest margin of defeat since a 6-0 loss at the hands of Uruguay in the 1920 Copa America.

Luiz offered an apology while Thiago Silva missed the humiliating defeat due to suspension

Brazil fans were left dejected after the defeat at the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte

A day as dark as the 1950 World Cup final defeat by the Uruguayans in Rio, it was clear the 2014 inquest would be a drawn-out process, even with all the emotions from the players immediately after the final whistle.

‘To explain what happened now is complicated. This is a dream that ends, although not the way we hoped,’ goalkeeper Julio Cesar said, having also conceded to the likes of Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira and Andre Schurrle.

‘I just wanted to give some happiness to my people. To my people, who suffer so much already,’ a tearful David Luiz – who was blamed for a number of the goals on the night due to his positioning – added.

‘Unfortunately we couldn’t do it. I’m sorry, everyone. Sorry to all Brazilians. I wanted to see my people smiling.’ Brazilian media however did not hold back, declaring an unofficial day of national mourning.

The beleaguered hosts recorded their heaviest margin of defeat since the 1920 Copa America

Jogo simply had a black front page with the words: ‘The Worst Humiliation in History’, while O Globo gave every single player and coach Luiz Felipe Scolari zero out of 10 in its ratings.

Brazil had appeared to have realised the fears of opening a Pandora’s Box by hosting a World Cup on home soil, but now there was no place to hide for those currently in charge of the shambolic product both on and off the field. 

‘It’s the worst moment of my football career and the worst day of my football life,’ then boss Scolari said. He would resign six days later, but Brazil’s problems upstairs or on the bench would become far from a distant memory. 

Dunga was brought in to replace Scolari, a decision that appeared to make little sense given that his previous stint ended when the Selecao were knocked out of the 2010 World Cup at the quarter-final stage by the Netherlands.

The fallout of the defeat saw former boss Carlos Dunga come back and replace Scolari

And it’s fair to say their fortunes were even worse for him second time round, after alienating players like Marcelo, Neymar and Thiago Silva, who he controversially removed as skipper.

Silva claimed he lost the captaincy to Neymar ‘without any conversation’ with Dunga or the new skipper, as David Luiz and Miranda became the boss’ first-choice centre-back pairing while the then-PSG star failed even to make some of his squads.

Marcelo suffered a similar fate, being told by Dunga that he lacked the ‘right attitude’ to play for the country, but the Real Madrid star’s row became increasingly hostile and even saw the normally composed Zinedine Zidane accuse the Brazilian camp of ‘lies’. 

Moreover, despite being appointed captain, Neymar was showing cracks before too long as well, slamming the coach after he was named as a substitute in a win against Costa Rica in September 2015.  

‘Being benched is not something I’m used to and I’m not willing to get used to it,’ Neymar said. What began to occur with more regularity however were underwhelming performances on the pitch.

Qualification for the 2018 World Cup was proving an exhausting ordeal, with a poor start highlighted by taking just nine points from their first six games to leave them in sixth place in the South American qualifying group.

His fortunes were even worse second time round, alienating players like Marcelo and Silva

Yet the most embarrassing moment of Dunga’s tenure would arrive when Brazil – having drawn with Ecuador and thrashed Haiti – suffered a shock group-stage exit in the 2016 Copa America following a first defeat by Peru in 31 years in Boston.

Dunga remained defiant after the devastating loss, replying when asked if he feared for his job: ‘I am only afraid of death.  

‘The president knows what we are doing, how we are working, we know about the pressure, and we know that the job comes with criticism.

‘When you work for the Brazil national team you have to know the criticism will mount when you don’t get results but internally we know what we are doing. We lauded Germany for 14 years of work (in restructuring their football).

‘And in Brazil we want everything to be changed easily in two minutes. In football, you have to have patience when you start your work and you have to persist and you have to have confidence in what you’re doing.

‘Germany had that patience. Of course Brazilians don’t have that patience. We want immediate solutions but immediate solutions come with continuity.’

Brazil suffered a first defeat by Peru in 31 years under Dunga at the 2016 Copa America

That backing from the hierarchy was found wanting though and Brazilian football was once again at a crossroads, leaving the death knell for Dunga’s short and abortive reign to come, rather predictably, two days later.

There were problems emerging at the highest level of the Brazilian Football Federation (CBF) too, with presidents standing down because of various corruption allegations.

Just a few months before their World Cup humiliation, Marco Polo Del Nero was elected as president to replace Jose Maria Marin, who at the time was at the centre of a number of corruption probes.

The following year, Marin would be arrested for corruption charges in the infamous 2015 FIFA case, and sentenced to four years in jail in August 2018 before his early release in March last year amid the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

There were also issue upstairs, with CBF president Jose Maria Marin arrested and later charged with corruption 

Del Nero did not fare much better however and was also accused of corruption, having fled from a FIFA election meeting in Zurich in May 2015 to return to Brazil when his colleagues were detained by police.

His arrest and guilty sentence for accepting bribes would not arrive until a few months before the 2018 World Cup, and such instances have led legends like Romario to start a movement to put an end once and for all to corruption in Brazilian football after admitting he had become ‘demoralised’ with the situation.

Current CBF president Rogerio Caboclo was scrupulous in addressing the matter when he took charge in 2019, admitting the hard work to clean up their image had just begun.

‘I am aware of CBF’s worn out image, I will face this. We will increase our governance controls. I will not tolerate any suspicious practice of misconduct,’ Caboclo said in his inauguration speech. 

His replacement Marco Polo Del Nero was also found guilty of accepting bribes in 2018

And while doubts may linger for some time about the commitment of the CBF to restoring its image in light of Caboclo receiving a formal accusation of sexual harassment filed by an ex-employee of the organisation in June this year, there were few leading up to the Olympics in Rio about how seriously Brazil were taking a home Games.

Olympic gold was the only international honour that had eluded Brazil, and such was the desire to claim that highly-coveted medal that Neymar was omitted from the Copa America Centenario squad to allow him to compete in Rio.

Brazil had set their priorities early and an under-23 squad led by under-20 coach Rogerio Micale were tasked with the huge responsibility of ending Brazil’s painful wait for gold.

Neymar was the undoubted star but was joined in the squad by current Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus, PSG defender Marquinhos, West Ham midfielder Felipe Anderson, Thiago Alcantara’s brother Rafinha and Renato Augusto.

Rogerio Micale were tasked with the huge responsibility of ending Brazil’s wait for Olympic gold

Former goalkeeper Micale may not have represented the glamour name Brazil would have hoped to have in charge heading their quest for gold, but his low-key status combined with his pragmatism in his job seemed to work well with some players who had found themselves playing for an unabashed Dunga for the last couple of years.

They were not without their teething problems though, as a sluggish start to the Games saw them record goalless draws against South Africa and Iraq, with a disconnect between the midfield and attack and a lack of any semblance of a passing game proving to be the most noticeable hindrances.

Instead, the Selecao were relying on incisive and destructive individual moments of magic from Neymar, Gabriel Barbosa or Gabriel Jesus, but they stood little chance when faced with resolute and organised defences blocking their route to goal.

Micale demonstrated his tactical nous by ditching the 4-3-3 system and bringing in forward Luan Vieira in what was more of a 4-2-4 formation, a switch which immediately bore fruit. 

After a difficult start for Brazil to the Olympics , Luan came into the team and made the difference in a 4-0 against Denmark

Luan and Neymar were charged with rectifying the gap between midfield and attack, and with the full-backs now having more room to operate in, both Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel Barbosa were free to make a nuisance of themselves in the penalty box, leading Brazil into the knockout stages after beating Denmark 4-0.   

The hosts showed they had the mental steel for the task too, with a mass brawl breaking out following Neymar’s heavy challenge on Andreas Roa in the quarter-final against Colombia, not long after the current PSG star had curled home an 11th-minute free kick from 25 yards.

Five players were booked but having grabbed an early lead, Brazil maintained their composure before striking a decisive second through Luan from outside the area to qualify for their third consecutive Olympic semi-final.

Neymar, just 24 at the time, was already the poster boy of the Games for the host nation, but it was moments of history that supporters were really yearning for at the Games.

One such instance arrived against Honduras, as Neymar scored the fastest goal in Olympic football history after just 14 seconds as Brazil romped to a 6-0 thrashing of Honduras courtesy of his double and a brace too from Jesus.

Brazil kept their cool to progress after a mass brawl broke out in the quarter-final against Colombia

But fate and football are two stories that often intertwine and the only opposition left standing in between Brazil and Olympic gold was their conquerors two years ago, Germany. 

The word of the day became ‘revenge’ and the talk of the town was the shot at Brazilian redemption following their 7-1 defeat, but Micale was keen to highlight  none of the Rio squad were part of the side that had faced humiliation in 2014.

‘That was the World Cup. This is the Olympic team,’ Micale told a pre-match press conference.

‘Neymar never played in that match so there is nothing that could generate any type of feeling that we have to take revenge. It is a different time with different players and ages.

‘The supporters are playing their role and we will need the supporters as this is a very strong German team. The supporters will want what they want, but there is no link between that match and this one.

Neymar had a penchant for free-kicks in Rio and was a key scoring outlet for them at the Games

Neymar scored twice and Marquinhos also netted as they beat Honduras 6-0 in the semi-final

‘I am sure the final with Germany will be a great match but it has nothing to do with the past.’

So if payback was not on their minds, then what was? The answer, simply put, was reconciliation with a disillusioned mass of supporters.

A survey carried out in Sao Paulo prior to Brazil’s group-stage elimination in the Copa America Centenario indicated an overwhelming 90 percent of people had little interest in how their national side fared. Winning the Games would go some way to redressing the balance in their relationship.

The pre-final message of pride, rather than revenge, also seemingly resonated with the fans, with former Brazil international Rai adding: ‘The challenge of winning the first Olympic medal is stronger than the spirit of revenge.’

The pre-final message of pride, rather than revenge, also seemingly resonated with the fans

The final went to a penalty shootout, where Weverton saved from Germany’s Nils Petersen

And after losing in the finals in 1984, 1988 and 2012, Brazil simply had to emerge victorious at a packed, vibrant Maracana.

Germany defeated Nigeria 2-0 in the semi-finals but appeared to have placed much less importance on the Olympics than their hosts, with Bundesliga clubs – like many around the club – having not been obliged to release their leading players.

Their three over‑age players – Lars Bender, brother Sven and Nils Petersen – had only 26 full caps between them, while Brazil’s three – Weverton, Augusto and Neymar – had 81.

But Weverton, Neymar and Petersen would still end up playing fundamental roles in the final, with the current PSG star curling a free-kick home from 25 yards to give the confident hosts the lead.

The world champions fought back however and having smashed three efforts against the woodwork in the first half, they were finally rewarded when captain Max Meyer levelled to score the first goal Brazil had conceded in the Games and silence the 78,000 crowd inside the Maracana. 

Neymar then scored the winning penalty to ensure Brazil won Olympic gold on home soil

The fantastic, electric atmosphere they created however was made to last all the way until a penalty shootout after a goalless extra-time. 

Weverton was the first hero, diving to his left to save joint leading scorer Petersen’s penalty – Germany’s final regulation spot-kick – and consequently presenting Neymar with the opportunity to seal the gold. 

Seconds later, after a shot was placed expertly high into the net, a tearful Neymar and his colleagues revelled in joy around the Maracana in Brazil’s first major success since the 2007 Copa America.

But they were not glowing in revenge, instead demonstrating the pure, raw human emotions that saw them reconnect with the nation.

Players were showing large smiles on their faces, and there was no ulterior motive to want to win the tournament than simply the joy it would bring to a sport that desperately need a boost in the country. 

O Globo reported on thousands of Brazilian fans ‘exploding with joy’ as they watched the final at the Olympic Boulevard, where many stayed to celebrate despite the rain storm which had soaked the crowd.

Neymar showed his medal to the supporters that had attended a packed Maracana

Neymar had missed the 2014 semi-final but played a vital role for Brazil two years later

‘The gold is ours, but it belongs to God. God loves Neymar like he loves all this team’, Weverton said.

Neymar added: ‘This is one of the best things that has happened in my life. That’s it.’

The press were no longer mourning but in jubilant mood too. ‘Finally, the champions of everything,’ the Brazilian newspaper Estado de Minas proclaimed.

Neymar brought out Usain Bolt’s trademark celebration, and the Jamaican – in attendance at the Maracana – knew a thing or two about Olympic success. 

But it delivered hope to a nation that had been deprived of it ever since their defeat by Germany in 2014, with Neymar leading the next generation of players that would thrive under new boss Tite.

The Olympic gold perhaps does not resonate to the same effect as World Cup glory, but the triumph in Rio provided stability and a future for a major footballing nation that had craved it more than ever before. 

The current PSG star said it was one of the best things to have ever happened to him in life

Neymar bites his gold medal along with Gabriel Jesus (left) and Gabriel Barbosa (right)

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