A funny thing happened when Germany humiliated Brazil in Belo Horizonte. Germans started to feel sorry for the Brazilians. Yes, really. The nation whose greatest gift to the English language was the word Schadenfreude found itself unable to enjoy Brazilian misery. Or, as Basil Fawlty might put it, this was a bad case of ‘Don’t Mention the Score’.
German friends and relatives said they felt uncomfortable as the goal tally mounted. My brother-in-law told me he was unable to blow his vuvuzela in celebration because Brazil didn’t deserve this kind of humiliation. And it wasn’t just German fans who felt a tinge of pity. When Toni Kroos drove home the third goal, he looked too embarrassed to celebrate. At half-time, the German players agreed not to showboat out of respect for their wounded opponents. ‘We just made it clear that we had to stay focused and not try to humiliate them’, said defender Mats Hummels. Even the German press struck an apologetic tone. Der Tagesspiegel and the BZ both carried the simple headline ‘Sorry’. BZ described Die Mannschaft as ‘the worst guests in history’.
The muted reaction was all very Jurgen the German if you ask me. Remember him? Jurgen was the fictional Harry Enfield character who was perpetually contrite for the sins of his forebears. ‘I feel I must apologise for the conduct of my nation in the war’, Jurgen would say. It was a brilliant send-up of enduring German national guilt over its Nazi past. But, while this ‘second guilt’ – the sense of guilt felt by those born after the war - might be difficult for modern Germany to shake-off, should they really feel guilty for winning a football match? Don’t be daft. If there’s a right time to indulge in Schadenfreude, the 7-1 thrashing of Brazil was precisely that time. I was cheering on every goal and laughing at every close-up shot of weeping Brazilian fans. While Germans were feeling guilty, I was enjoying the social-media mockery, such as the picture gallery of Sad Brazilians on Tumblr. It was a Samba car crash and I loved every moment.
My message to the German nation is this: forget the Holocaust and just enjoy the Goalocaust (as it was quickly dubbed on Twitter). Don’t feel bad about pissing on Brazil’s parade; you have done the the world a huge favour. In that crazy first 45 minutes, during which Brazil fell apart, the iconic yellow jersey of the Seleçao was forever de-mythologised. Call me bitter, but some of us have waited for this moment for years. Ever since 1970, when we watched live football on colour TV sets for the first time, the Brazilian jersey has inspired awe and admiration in equal measure. Brazilian football was considered the benchmark against which the rest of us were measured. ‘It’s just like watching Brazil’, we’d chant if our team managed to string a couple of passes together. Commentators drooled over Brazilian flair, skill and trickery. All manner of lazy cliches – such as ‘jogo bonito’ and ‘samba football’ – were dredged up whenever Brazil played. In short, it was a nauseating, fawning Brazilian love-in.
Last Tuesday night in the Mineirao didn’t sound the death knell of ‘O jogo bonito’ (the beautiful game). In reality, ‘jogo bonito’ died in 1982 when Têle Santana’s entertaining Brazil team, studded with stars like Zico, Socrates and Falcao, were undone by Paolo Rossi and Italy. In the wake of that traumatic defeat, Brazil discovered pragmatism. They learned how to tackle and defend. There was still space for fantasy players but the days of defensive players performing stepovers in their own half – a la Clodoaldo in 1970 – were over. The World Cup winning teams of 1994 and 2002 were pragmatic and more defensively minded. Felipe Scolari’s 2002 team deployed two defensive midfielders – Gilberto and Kleberson – to sit in front of the back four. This Brazilification of catennaccio provided the foundation for Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and Ronaldo to perform their party tricks.