Aaaand that’s a wrap. World Cup 2014 Brazil is done. This Cup that has thrilled like no other in recent memory, that broke almost every record there is. The champions are Germany, winning 1-0 over Argentina at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro early this morning (AEST).
It’d be easy to say the Germans were always going to come away with it. That their professionalism would win out over South American passion. But that’s not at all how the final played out. In the end it was closely fought, tight and tactical — and it was only a solitary flash of late creative brilliance from Germany substitute Mario Gotze deep into extra time that decided it.
Today is the culmination of 31 days, 175 hours of football, US$15 billion of Brazilian taxpayer cash, US$2 billion of FIFA funny money and god knows how many hours of annual leave for fans. FIFA and the Brazilian Organizing Committee are heaving twin sighs of relief — despite expectations, everyone had a good time, no major protests spoiled the party, only a few people died …
But for Brazilians, this was the month from hell. Their overhyped team only really fired in one game, against Colombia. Forget the last two games (losing 7-1 against Germany and 3-0 against the Netherlands).
Adding insult to injury, right after being publicly humiliated, Brazilians had to turn around and get behind Germany. The Brazil-Argentina rivalry is very bitter, so kissing the hand that punched them out of the Cup was less painful than Argentina winning it on their soil. Oh, the wicked creativity of fate.
As for Argentinians, the newspapers say 350,000 of them turned out in Rio to stick it to their rivals. Around 70,000 of them were watching the game on the big screens on the beach at Copacabana. A sea of smug smirks, stoking the famous rivalry with their favourite chant: “Brazil, tell me how it feels to have a new daddy in your house …”
Of course, their smirks are gone today. Just a sad mass of anonymous tear-streaked faces hovering above limp and dirty Messi shirts. It’s the Brazilians watching them that are smirking but they won’t be tomorrow when they’ve come down from their schadenfreude high are hit with hungover reality — everyone else is going home now and they’ve got to foot the bill.
The airport-bound international fans getting out of here will drive past the bridges, highways and train stations all built for this Cup, either half-finished or hastily slapped together in panic at the last minute. Brazil spent three times the money it planned and got half the infrastructure hoped for. Much of it will remain conspicuously half-finished with whatever funding remains pocketed by officials and contractors. Some will be left to rot — Manaus and Cuiaba got world-class stadiums worth upwards of $200 million apiece despite the average domestic game in those cities attracting 5000 fans, tops.
All in all the Brazilian taxpayers have bankrolled what is effectively a $15 billion donation to a few construction firms and their alcohol and hotel sector. If South Africa’s experience is anything to go by, the country will be lucky to recoup 10% of its investment. People will ask a lot of questions about exactly how much money was spent, but no one expects to ever know the truth. Brazil has had its moment in the sun, fiddling like Nero while 20% of its population lives in poverty.
Reams of research shows clearly that FIFA’s snake-charm fakenomics is nothing more than an excuse you can use for throwing away a lot of taxpayer money. But that will never stop nations jostling to be the next in line.
Football fans will be talking about Brazil 2014 for years to come. It was a month-long ecstatic scream of culture. But in the loud silence that follows, as work crews in oil-stained orange jumpsuits dismantle the big screens and cart away the portaloos, the question in Brazil will be “what did we win? And what did we lose?”