What Brazil's humiliating loss could mean for the country

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman : It wasn't just fans in Brazil who were crushed by yesterday’s defeat

Franklin Foer : When you see something like Brazilian soccer, which was the most positive, wonderful way of playing the game. You know, I just felt heart broken at the demise of something that was once so wonderful.

Werman : Franklin Foer wrote the book, how soccer explains the world.

Foer : This was such a humiliation. It was such, such an unexpected defeat for the Brazilian public that there's a pretty strong case that a countries performance in the World Cup affects the general mood. And especially in a country like Brazil where the game is so intimately tied to people's sense of self worth and in the state of the country.

Werman : As for, you know this being a country that already had a lot of critics of the Cup before it started and the money that was spent on the World Cup, is this going to seriously continue polarizing the country?

Foer : I think it will. There are a couple of reasons because it does reflect on some broader ties in Brazilian society. The first is that, Brazil has acquired a massive middle class over their course of the last decade. And that strong middle class now has very middle class concerns about the way that their government sent money. And I was in Brazil and I went to some of the stadiums during the World Cup and I was pretty amazed at the marble staircases that I saw in the Sao Paulo stadium and the extent to which the government made economically irrational investments that could only be explained by some of the underlying corruption in the Brazilian system. And I think that that corruption in fact helps explain the pour performance on Brazil on the soccer pitch. That the Brazilian game much more broadly is afflicted by corruption. It's run by a bunch of oligarchs who pad their own pockets and sell players to European clubs in order to make a profit.

Werman : These men you're talking about, they are part of the Brazilian Soccer Federation?

Foer : It's not just the Brazilian Soccer Federation, it trickles down throughout the entire ecosystem of the sport. So, you have club owners who are corrupt, agents who are corrupt, journalists even, who are complicit in the corruption and politicians who countenance the entire system. And over time it's resulted in some very bad investments that the country has made. And those bad investments have hindered it's economic growth when you look at corruptions effect on society more grandly. And it's also hindered the countries soccer growth because youth and talent aren't nurtured in the proper way that they should.

Werman : Given the protests last year before the World Cup and after the Confederations Cup in Brazil, do you think this ended up being just a really high stakes risk for Brazil, putting on the World Cup?

Foer : The country's actually performed fairly well during this World Cup. People predicted that it wasn't logistically up to the task. That it's airports and it's roads and it's stadiums would be build in such shoddy way that they would embarrass themselves in front of the entire world. But, I do think for the Brazilian elite, which was so determined to put on this big show for the world, I do think that they will be punished in some sort of way for spending such wild sums of money on a spectacle that was not accompanied in the end by Brazilian triumph.

Werman : But, what about other losses? I mean, give us some examples from history of past defeats for countries and the consequences for them, where a soccer defeat gets translated into, like, political or economic defeat.

Foer : Well, it's interesting in way in which successes and victories and reflecting a lot of the caricatures that we have about a country's national character. So, you take a country like Germany, in 2000, Germany failed to qualify for the European championships and they attacked the problem by remaking their entire style of play. And that was exactly what was on display yesterday when they thrashed Brazil. And in England, Herald Wilson, was said to have maintained power in 1966 after his country won the World Cup that it hosted there. And then when the country failed to do well at the 1970 World Cup, he lost his hold on power. In Brazil, when Brazil lost the finals of the 1998 World Cup, there was a backlash against globalization that fell because the country was so desperate to look for a scapegoat for it's defeat.

Werman : I don't know who you were routing for, who you're still routing for, but how deeply did this Brazil defeat affect you?

Foer : I have many relatives who live in Brazil and I'd grown up intoxicated with the mythology and magic.

Werman : The yellow jersey.

Foer : The canary yellow jersey and I called my cousins in the middle of the match when it was incredibly clear where it was heading and it just broke my heart.

Werman : Franklin Foer, we're gonna leave it there. Thank you so much. Great to speak with you.

Foer : Pleasure.