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The death of the yellow jersey

July 09, 2014 12:06 IST

Hulk, David Luiz and Marcelo of Brazil prepare to take a free kick during the match against Colombia at Castelao. Photograph: Buda Mendes/Getty Images'Living in Brazil, I had internalised the football mythology of that country, the way I had learnt Mahabharata stories in my childhood.'

'The tragedy at the Maracana stadium in 1950, when a confident Brazil had lost to Uruguay in the finals. They tell the story of this debacle, this 'Hiroshima' that hit them, like the Shias lament the death of Ali.'

'It led to the Brazilian team burning their white uniforms and switching later to Yellow and blue symbolising their national colours,' says Ambassador B S Prakash, India's former envoy to Brazil.

On Tuesday night, the Yellow Jersey died.

As a Hindu, I believe in reincarnation and therefore can only hope that the Brazilian atma clad in the jersey is immortal and would be reborn.

But what about the predominantly Catholic Brazilians? How will they explain the tragic demise? Retribution by God for their sin of hubris and over-confidence? A mysterious act by a merciless Almighty?

For, the joy in the Yellow has verily perished on the grounds of Belo Horizonte, the city that will be forever associated in the Brazilian mind with defeat and ignominy.

Am I over dramatising a mere football match? But what is football, that too a World Cup, without the drama?

The morning of the match, I had a four word e-mail from one of my friends from Brazil, when I was Ambassador in that country a year ago. "Who are you with today?" asked my friend. She had worked with me in Brazil, but also knew that I had been a diplomat in Germany earlier and spoke much better German than Portuguese. Hence, the legitimate question about the loyalty -- to Brazil or Germany, to old memories or recent friendships.

The question indeed made me think a little. I am an admirer of all things German, well, almost all things except one or two, too ghastly to speak of. The land of Kant and Hegel, of Bach and Beethoven, of Mercedes and BMW, and of Mueller and Klose. A country that is efficiency personified; a machine that moves and reaches its 'goals'.

The German team is like what its German name suggests, a mannschaft -- manly, muscular, mean. I have been watching the German team 'at work' for decades, yes, at work is a better description for what they do, instead of calling it 'play'.

They advance relentlessly, they are aggressive to the core, they convert opportunities to goals with practiced perfection. Yes, I am a fan of the German team and have always supported them against others.

But against Brazil? I was not so sure.

Germany had Kant, Beethoven, and BMW. Brazil only had football, Samba, carnival and the beaches. And all these somehow melded into a mood of flexibility, flow, and fun.

Living in Brazil, I had internalised the football mythology of that country, the way I had learnt Mahabharata stories in my childhood. The tragedy at the Maracana stadium in 1950, when a confident Brazil had lost to Uruguay in the finals. They tell the story of this debacle, this 'Hiroshima' that hit them, like the Shias lament the death of Ali.

It led to the Brazilian team burning their white uniforms and switching later to Yellow and blue symbolising their national colours. The story of young Pele arising from poverty to become the God of football for two decades. A football Socrates in their midst stirring the political pot. Their unmatched five World Cups. And now, coming to the present, the quest for the 'Hexta', a sixth trophy and that too to be won on home soil, at the Maracana, once again.

'I am with all of you, for Brazil,' I had texted my friend.

I had got a 'smiley' in return.

So, I set the alarm at one in the morning and dutifully got up to watch the tragedy that was to unfold.

Both the national anthems again brought back emotions. Deutschland uber alles (Germany above everything), I thought as the German team sang their anthem including Mesut Ozil of Turkish origin and Miroslav Klose, of Polish antecedents. Modern Germany had exorcised its ghosts.

Then came the Brazilian anthem with the whole stadium belting it out. 'Only the Jogo Bonito' (the beautiful game) gave them fervour as very few things can, I reflected.

It was clear that two key players were missing from the selecao, as the Brazilian team is known. Neymar had come face to face with tragedy in the earlier match and was spared this one. Thiago Silva, the ever dependable rock, the key defender and the captain, was also sitting it out on the bench, having faced two yellow cards, earlier.

Would it have mattered? Who knows?

The match started and in 12 minutes the German finishing machine had done the deed; the first goal, an impeccable conversion from a penalty. The rest is history, as the cliche goes and as will now be talked about by football aficionados for decades.

7-1. Incredible. Unbelievable. A national humiliation. Adjectives flow.

Thinking of my Brazilian friends, I have another worry. It will be some consolation for them if their foe Argentina loses in the other semis and we get to an all-European final. But, heaven forbid, if Argentina were to lift the Cup against Germany in the final, the cup of woe will brim over.

There is an Indian connection too in the days to come. The millions of mourning Brazilians may not even know it, but their President will host a summit of key world leaders -- Russia, China, India, and South Africa on July 15. The meeting of BRICS leaders will occur as a nation weeps except for my ex-colleagues in the Brazilian foreign ministry who will be busy putting on smiles and rolling the red caret.

For Prime Minister Modi, this will be his first major overseas trip. It is ironical that his first words to the host, the Brazilian President, is likely to be that of commiseration at the national loss.

For earlier columns by Ambassador B S Prakash, please click here.

Image: Hulk, David Luiz and Marcelo of Brazil prepare to take a free kick during the match against Colombia at Castelao. Photograph: Buda Mendes/Getty Images

B S Prakash