The World Cup ended, as it began, with angry white Brazilians calling for Dilma Rousseff, the president, to “stick it up her arse”. Or at least it did for about 30 seconds before Fifa’s propaganda machine got into action and banal synth-pop was blasted into the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, the final surrender of this great stadium of the people to the corporatism in which the Brazil of Dilma and her Workers’ Party has been complicit.
The symbolism takes some working through. When the Maracana was built as the emblem of Getulio Vargas’s Estado Novo, it was conceived as the grandest football stadium in the world. It’s said over 200,000 packed in for the final game of the 1950 World Cup, people of all walks of life, rich and poor, professors and prostitutes, pickpockets and captains of industry.
It was a stage for Brazil’s self-projection. Now, tickets are so expensive, and distribution so controlled, that they are out of reach of all but a thin sliver of society. The populist, and in theory socialist, government of Lula and then Dilma, co-operated in the investment of huge amounts of money to put on an event that its natural supporter-base couldn’t attend, with the result that those who could attend, natural political opponents of Dilma anyway, were given a platform on which to abuse her.
Given the World Cup had become a focal point for dissent, the most obvious example of the corruption and cronyism that blights Brazil were effectively jeering Dilma during the final for having given them the opportunity to do so.
There had been talk earlier in the tournament that Dilma and Sepp Blatter, the president of Fifa, wouldn’t even attend the final for fear of the abuse they would receive, but both were there at the handing over the trophy – which, weirdly, these days seems to resemble Blatter; stick it in a suit and paint his head gold and it would be like Dr Evil and Mini-Me – even if the official cameraman seemed to be doing his best to keep the pair out of shot as Germany cavorted on the temporary stage.
Even more confusingly, Dilma’s popularity in the polls had risen from 34 per cent before the tournament to 39 per cent when Brazil won through their quarter-final.
Yet this was never an attractive or likeable Brazil side: led by the boorish Luiz Felipe Scolari, they played over-physical, cynical football and rode a tide of emotion that tipped into hysteria when Neymar suffered the back injury that put him out of the tournament. There was something almost comedic about Germany’s stony-faced professionalism amid the frenzy as Brazil’s stand-in captain David Luiz held Neymar’s shirt aloft before Brazil’s 7-1 capitulation to Germany in the semi-final. All those who insist that what England need is more passion should consider what happened next: no side has ever sung an a national anthem more stridently than Brazil did before that semi-final, and no side has then collapsed quite so spectacularly or brainlessly. Dilma will probably still win October’s election, but that humiliation will eat into her majority.
Along the beach at Copacabana the morning after the final, the vast caravan of Argentinian fans lay quiet. Some wandered over the sand, some boiled water on gas stoves, some sat on the steps of their vans or the bonnets of their cars. After defeat to Germany in the final the previous night, they were quiet, emotionally drained, their version of “Bad Moon Rising”, which had taunted Brazilians for weeks, notable by its absence.
What was up with Messi, wondered those who could be bothered to speak. Was he simply exhausted? Why had he started this season throwing up on the pitch? Given that he’ll be 31 by the time of the next World Cup, is that it for him and his hopes of following Diego Maradona in leading Argentina to the world title?
There was a sense that this was the true World Cup, these fans who had spent their savings to drive from Buenos Aires, just to be part of the event, knowing they had no chance of finding a ticket, or been able to afford it even if they had. Quite how many Argentinians decamped to Rio is impossible to say, with official estimates ranging from 100,000 to 200,000. What’s clear is that it was lots: they were nose-to-tail along the sea-front and they filled the sambapark with their camper vans. Occasionally, amid the swathes of blue-and-white, there’d be a flash of another colour. There were Chileans and Colombians, the odd Brazilian from outside Rio. One family, their car draped in dark green and red, had driven all the way from Mexico City, making the World Cup final the end of a journey across the continent that had taken three months.
For those of us who argue for football’s importance based on its universality, this should have been a scene of vindication. But Sunday night, after the final, was far from a carnival of nations. The streets of Copacabana ran with urine, bars ran out of beer and there was a sweaty fractiousness in the air. Actual violence was limited, but there were occasional clashes between Argentinians and Brazilians, angry enough to make you grateful that meant the two great South American rivals hadn’t met in the final.
And there is one final irony. The majority of those lining the coast road watched the final on one of the two screens on the beach. One of them had been erected by the local municipality, the other was part of the Fan Fest, a soulless monument to commerce, with face painting for £8 and bottles of Fifa wine for £126, that has been earning untaxed revenue for Fifa since 2006. Even amid the camper vans and the seemingly anarchic raucousness of the beach, Blatterism reigns.