BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL — It’s been said Brazil has never fully recovered from its greatest sporting tragedy, the 1950 home loss to Uruguay in the World Cup final. Despite proceeding to win a record five global crowns and injecting beauty into the beautiful game, for blessing the sport legends such as Pele, Romario and Ronaldo, Brazil remains haunted by the ghosts of “Maracanazo” — a term symbolizing heartbreak that day at Rio’s Maracana stadium.
After what unfolded Tuesday, a 7-1 loss to Germany in the semifinals, Brazil will have to coin a new idiom to pass through the generations, an expression to capture what it looked and felt like at Estadio Mineirao, what it meant to concede four goals in six minutes of the first half, to suffer one of the most humbling setbacks in World Cup annals and the worst loss in the great history of Brazilian soccer.
While 1950 was pure heartbreak — a late goal in a game that Brazil only needed to tie to claim the title— this was a calamity. Fans were not just sad — some were in tears after the third goal — but confused and angry. Derisive whistles and chants pierced the cool evening. Security was reinforced around the merry German cheering sections.
“To the people, please excuse us for this negative mistake,” Brazil Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said through an interpreter. “I am sorry we will not be able to get to the final.”
When the halftime whistle sounded, several Brazilian supporters rushed toward the edge of the tunnel to curse the players and coaches. As the margin grew, fans mockingly applauded. And when the Germans passed the ball without interruption, the crowd sarcastically saluted the display.
Make no mistake: The Germans were awfully good, reinforcing their newly inherited status as the favorites to raise the trophy Sunday at Maracana, regardless of whether Argentina or the Netherlands opposes them.
Toni Kroos and substitute Andre Schuerrle scored two goals apiece, and adding to Brazil’s misery, Miroslav Klose broke a tie with Ronaldo for the World Cup scoring record, his 16th.
As the goals piled up, “We had trouble believing it,” Kroos said.
This was supposed to be a galvanizing occasion for Brazil, which had drawn emotional strength after superstar Neymar was ruled out with a fractured vertebra and captain Thiago Silva was suspended for yellow-card accumulation.
The match did not kick off until 5 p.m., but this city of 2.3 million about 270 miles north of Rio was buzzing with activity when the sun rose.
Many businesses did not bother opening. Roads around the stadium were blocked to all but official vehicles. Under a bright winter sky, fans walked about a mile along Avenida Antonio Abrahao Caran, mixing with supporters arriving from other directions to form a river of yellow and green.
A TV helicopter tracked Brazil’s bus leaving the team hotel, beaming live images of a motorcade fit for a presidential visit. Fans chased alongside, as if the bus were the Tour de France leader. When it pulled into the stadium tunnel, 94 minutes before kickoff, those watching on large video screens inside the arena roared.
Scolari was first to step off the vehicle, sporting a baseball cap with a “#ForcaNeymar” message of support for his fallen star.
Scolari made three lineup changes, two mandated by his absent stars: Predictably, Dante — who like many Brazilian soccer stars goes by one name — replaced Thiago Silva in the heart of defense and defensive midfielder Luis Gustavo returned from suspension.
The surprise came in the attack as Scolari summoned Bernard, not the more experienced Willian, to fill Neymar’s slick shoes. Bernard, 21, had made just two appearances totaling 67 minutes, but he is a Belo Horizonte native who rose through the local Atletico Mineiro system and played three seasons with the first team before moving to Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk last year.
German Coach Joachim Loew did not alter what had worked with understated efficiency in the quarterfinal against France. The lineup included striker Klose, 36, who, 12 years ago, started against Brazil in the World Cup final in Yokohama, Japan.
Deafening chants and roars during pregame activities shook the oval stadium. The stadium holds about 60,000. During the Brazilian national anthem, “Hino Nacional Brasileiro,” it sounded like 200 million.
Brazil rode the emotion of the moment, but Germany returned fire. The match sizzled with energy and pace, both sides flying end to end.
The Germans seized on Brazilian sloppiness to launch counterattacks. On one of many forays, in the 11th minute, they earned a corner kick. Kroos provided the service. Thomas Müller waited on the back side. Brazilian defender David Luiz, wearing the captain’s armband and enjoying a superb tournament, lost Müller in the mix.
By the time he realized the problem, it was too late. Müller drove an eight-yard volley past goalkeeper Julio Cesar for his fifth goal of the tournament and 10th in two World Cups.
Unleash the hounds.
Kroos linked with Müller, who criss-crossed with Klose inside the box before leaving the ball for the veteran striker. Cesar stopped the first attempt but left the rebound for Klose to slot into the lower right corner.
Brazil was in shambles, but the worst was still to come. Barely a minute had passed when Philipp Lahm crossed from the right side. Müller scuffed on his attempt, but the ball rolled into Kroos’s path for a wicked blast from 17 yards to the lower left corner.
The onslaught continued. A dreadful giveaway by Fernandinho in his own end led to a Kroos-Sami Khedira combination and Kroos’s second strike, a 10-yarder past the helpless keeper for a 4-0 lead.
Oscar’s 89th-minute strike was barely consolation on an infamous day in Brazilian history.
After the final whistle, Brazil’s players gathered at midfield and applauded the spectators. It was almost a plea for forgiveness. None was offered.