Where next for Brazil? The morning after the national team's 7-1 defeat to Germany in the World Cup semi-final, an unprecedented footballing humiliation, it is of course far too early to tell. At present, as the roar of jet engines echoes across the Rio hills, there is still a hollowness, a disbelief. The country threw a party for the planet, but instead of being the belle of its own ball it has ended up looking like the class dunce. Yet what, in the long term, will this all mean, and will the ramifications go far beyond football?
Following the game last night, there was a fear outside Brazil that the nation would erupt, with this loss acting as tinder to resurrect the protests seen last year. Yet those protests, as suggested by the journalist Juca Kfouri in the BBC World Service documentary The Burden of Beauty, were more of an historic awakening than anything else. They were a catharsis, a sign of a people shaking off some of the weightiest emotional shackles of military dictatorship. Revolutionary fire of that intensity is unlikely to arise this time around.
Make no mistake: this defeat was a trauma. In retrospect, Brazil might have preferred a dramatic last-minute demise at the hands of Colombia in the previous round. At least then, they could have departed the tournament with a sense of romance, of tragedy. But this - this was brutal. It was as sickening and shocking as Red Viper's death at the hands of The Mountain in Game of Thrones. At a time when Brazil's economy has started spluttering after years of growth, when so many issues of infrastructure and public service remain unaddressed, this summer was meant to provide a temporary respite from national problems. Yet the country, it seems, can no longer count on football as its Great Escape.
This was the plan, wasn't it? Host a football tournament; win it or at least get to the final; add to Brazil's burgeoning football legend; and dance along the beachfront and down the streets as FIFA leaves town under the haze of glory. But now the bar bill has arrived; and whilst everyone else is giddily drunk, it is Brazil who, through a splitting headache, is fumbling miserably for the tab.
It is often said that the worst defeat in Brazil's footballing history is the World Cup final of 1950, when the host nation lost 2-1 to Uruguay in an event referred to as "the national tragedy". Yet what happened last night may surpass even that. The events of 1950 took place at a time when hosting an international tournament was far more readily accepted as an entirely reasonable use of public funds. We are now firmly in an era where such grand shows are frequently and scathingly critiqued as colossal vanity projects. With the 2016 Rio Olympics to come - another potential white elephant-in-waiting - only a World Cup win could truly justify success. Against such a hubristic backdrop, Brazil's players felt an unprecedented pressure to deliver; and, horrifyingly, they did not. This sense of failure was particularly evident in the tearful post-match words of David Luiz, the team's spiritual leader, yesterday evening. "I just wanted to see my people smiling", he said, on the verge of sobbing. "Brazilians suffer so much and I just wanted to make them smile."
This burden, of providing happiness where their country's own politicians could not, ultimately proved overwhelming for the national team. In 1970, the country was firmly under the heel of generals who were driving the nation into economic ruin; then, though, they had players of the calibre of Pele, Rivelinho, Jairzinho and Gerson, whose World Cup triumph that year provided respite and perhaps unwitting distraction from domestic ills. But this squad of footballers were not nearly as good, not nearly as mentally robust. And, in the long run, one significant positive may emerge from this debris.
Maybe, in the months to come, there will be the quiet, sober reflection that football means too much in Brazil. Maybe it has served too long as a projection of drama and fantasy, as a diversion from too much else that matters more. Elsewhere, other countries are coming to the understanding that, of itself, sport cannot always be a salvation. In April, Vietnam withdrew as the host of the 2019 Asian Games, considering that it would be financially irresponsible to proceed with the tournament. Prime Minster Nguyen Tan Dung, in a statement on his government's website, explained that "hosting this could help us promote our economy, society and the country's image. However, if we did not prepare carefully and successfully, it could have the opposite effect. State budget is limited and has to focused on investing in other very urgent tasks."
Of course, football will remain the national passion for years to come. But – and though this sounds spectacularly trite, it is sometimes the trite things that must be said – it is only a game. It is only a game, and it is a drug on which the country is no longer guaranteed the most satisfying of hits. Because rest assured: whilst Brazil's national team may well bounce back in 2018 at the World Cup in Russia, given that they have an excellent group of young players to come, the country's politicians will never be allowed to forget this moment: where they quite literally mortgaged the nation's future in anticipation of a victory parade that never came.