Matthew Niederhauser is reporting from Brazil with support from the Pulitzer Center.
I landed early in Sao Paulo after a sleepless night in Belo Horizonte. I was too consumed with the thrashing of Brazil to get any real sleep. I had always thought an early exit from the tournament would be a crucial moment in the Brazilian psyche, but the way it played out was much more complicated. The crippling of Neymar by the knee of Zuniga along with the Thiago Silva ban were daggers in the heart of the host nation. The absolute dismantling of the rest of team by Germany was the fatal twist of the blade. It was shocking and, in the end, humiliating. Newspapers around Brazil trumpeted the great shame brought upon the country. There was a new blight in the history of the beautiful game: the Mineirãzo. It was a time for soul searching, not impetuous rioting as everyone feared. Only fate could have come up with such a tragic ending.
These thoughts bounced around my sluggish mind as I rode the subway out to the Arena Corinthians where Argentina was facing off with Holland in the other semifinal. A great migration of Argentinians into Brazil occurred over the past month. Tens of thousands of men and women clad in white and sky blue were gathering. The diehard fans came to see whether their messianic Messi would live up to his reputation as the greatest footballer in the world and carry the team to their third World Cup victory. Brazil's archrivals would be more than pleased to win the trophy in the Maracana, their neighbor's sacred futebol stomping grounds—a result that would now provide the icing on the cake for what is proving a catastrophic end to Brazil’s tournament. But first, Argentina had to get past Holland.
After mixing with the fans a bit, I needed to make an important visit to a different type of cup, one organized by the The Homeless Workers’ Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem-Teto, or MTST). The group has cobbled together an encampment of nearly four thousand dispossessed families a few kilometers from the Arena Corinthians, which they've dubbed the Copa do Povo or People’s Cup. Many of these squatters were driven from their homes due to drastic rent increases felt across Sao Paulo. MTST staged massive protests the week leading up to the opening World Cup match, but reached a deal with the federal government in the eleventh hour to build low-income housing on the land they were occupying. The media dropped the story after the tournament started, but people were still living under tarps without running water and electricity on the side of the hill with the stadium looming in the distance. These are the issues that desperately need to be addressed in Brazil once the World Cup is over, not the progress of Neymar’s recovery or continued scrutiny of the disastrous loss to Germany.
It took me some time to get back into Sao Paulo proper after visiting the People’s Cup. I arrived in the Vila Magdalena neighborhood at the end of the first half. A steady drizzle was putting a damper on the viewing parties held between the bars on Rua Aspicuelta which was closed to vehicular traffic. Then, just as the second half was beginning, the power went out in the entire neighborhood. Too many flat screens for the power grid most likely. Fans streamed into the darkened streets and started singing nationalistic futebol chants. I took refuge in an improvised viewing party in a small parking lot just on the edge of the blackout. Some entrepreneurial locals set up a large screen and were selling tasty barbecue. When regulation time ended in a draw, I switched spots one more time so I could finally take a seat while watching the match. Exhaustion was setting in after nearly 36 hours of semifinal madness. It was a shame to see the Holland-Argentina match end in penalty kicks, especially with such talented goal scorers on both sides. In the end the Argentinian goalie Sergio Romero won the day by blocking two penalty kicks. La Albiceleste is through to the finals, and the nightmare continues for the host country.