BRASILIA — What will be the political and economic reverberations of Tuesday's historic humiliation of Brazil’s soccer team?
The government of President Dilma Rousseff is already on alert, fearing that the national bad mood left by the 7-1 defeat at the hands of Germany may deepen the already rather bleak Brazilian economic forecast, and have an impact on the upcoming presidential election slated for October.
Up until this week, Rousseff had been riding the wave of a successful World Cup, both on and off the pitch, as Brazil's team kept advancing, sometimes with difficulty, towards the final. She attacked “pessimists” and “vultures,” lumping together critics of the World Cup organization and those who voiced their low expectations regarding Brazil’s sporting performance.
A prompt public reaction to the defeat came from the President herself. She wrote on Twitter, “Like all Brazilians, I’m very, very sad about the defeat. I am immensely sorry for us all, the fans and our players.” She then urged, “But we won’t be broken. Brazil, "get up, shake off the dust and come out on top’.”
On Monday, she had announced she would be at the Maracanã stadium for the final to hand the trophy to the winner. At the moment of writing, the plan was still on, despite the general mood described by a government official: “We’re all stunned.”
Not all defeats are created equal
But despite the initial display of solidarity, some officials were, a few minutes after the game, already defending the idea of changing the strategy of associating successes on and off the pitch. “Detach ourselves from the Copa” was one of the phrases heard in the aftermath of the result.
Until then, the government had been preparing for spinning a potential defeat in this semifinal as something not unexpected. Germany was after all a powerful opponent and Brazil was going to be playing without injured striker Neymar, its best player, or its captain, Thiago Silva, who was suspended for the game.
Nobody however foresaw a 7-1 hammering at the Estádio Mineirão in Belo Horizonte. As the game unfolded, conversations among government officials went from anticipating how people would interpret the defeat to a genuine concern about the repercussions of the on-field disaster.
Beyond such “detachment” from officials, the government’s line of defense must be its responsibility to support the World Cup as an event until the final whistle, both inside and outside the stadium. To this end, security checks will be reinforced. If a setback on that front in the last week of the competition would be added on top of Brazil’s defeat, it could be fatal for the government, giving the image of a double fiasco.
What’s more, there is growing concern that criticism about the money spent for the event, estimated at this point at $12 billion, might return to center stage.
The possibility of facing Argentina, who will battle tonight against the Netherlands for the other spot in the final, in the match for third place is also regarded with fear. Another humiliation on Saturday against Brazil’s soccer arch enemies could magnify the impact of the defeat to Germany.
Until Tuesday's match, the Planalto (Brazil’s presidential palace) felt satisfied that it had done its part. Last week’s polls showed that Rousseff was benefitting from the increasing support for Brazil's World Cup squad, moving up four points in voting intentions to 38%.
Over the past month, the plan had been for her to mix the role of presidential fan for the Brazilian side, with public satisfaction over the functioning of airports and movement of tourists. Meanwhile, she would leave it to others in her party PT (Worker’s Party) to respond in the media and on social networks to any inflammatory criticism from the opposition.
Such a humiliating defeat on the field forces Rousseff to come up with a whole new plan off the field.