Dejected Brazil players after losing the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 quarterfinal football match to Croatia at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, west of Doha, on December 9, 2022. Brazil lost 4-3 in the penalty shootout after the match ended 1-1 at the end of extra-time. Image Credit: AP

How do you process defeat? It’s never easy. A loss is always painful, especially when your team are hot favourites to win the World Cup. A stumble two steps away from the summit is difficult to digest. If you are a Brazil supporter, you’d have gotten used to it since they haven’t won in the last 20 years.

The loss to Croatia on Friday was just the latest setback on the world stage. Why is the defeat on Friday so painful? Every Brazil defeat is mindnumbing. It feels like the end of the world, more like a death in the family. After all, they are perennial favourites who are expected to win every tournament. That’s the burden of being Brazil, a country where football is an integral part of the social fabric.

Brazil are the most successful team with five World Cups. Jules Rimet Trophy belongs to them after winning it for the third time in 1970. They have won the new FIFA trophy twice: in 1994 and 2002. So they are among the favourites whenever a World Cup comes around.

This year was different. Even rivals admit that Brazil were the best team in Qatar. It was not a side solely dependent on Neymar. They had a galaxy of stars and like-for-like replacements in every position, including the goal. None of the other 31 teams can boast of such strength and depth.

Brazil’s Neymar celebrates after scoring the opening goal against Croatia in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 quarterfinal football match at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, west of Doha, on December 9, 2022. That was the solitary moment of Samba magic in 120 minutes. Image Credit: AP

How Croatia outfoxed Brazil

Then how did Brazil lose? A powerful team doesn’t automatically translate into victories. That’s what Croatia showed us. Even the most skilful players can be neutralised with the right tactics. All you need is a plan, a good strategy. Like coach Zlato Dalic’s. And the players to execute it.

Josip Juranovic, Josko Gvardiol, Dejan Lovren and Borna Sosa did just that, frustrating Vinicius, Richarlison and Raphinha. When they were beaten, goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic loomed like an albatross, blocking 11 shots on targets. Only Neymar eluded Sosa’s attention and found Livakovic’s net. That was sensational. Brazil needed more of that magic, but Croatia wouldn’t allow that.

Penalties are anybody’s game. It’s Croatia’s game. When they have Livakovic, Croatia aren’t worried. All they had to do was to convert their kicks, and that’s what they did. And Brazil didn’t.

So I don’t grudge the Croatia win. They may not have played attractive football. Maybe they didn’t play at all, but they did enough to win. That’s what matters in tournaments. And Brazil can’t complain.

Their 1994 triumph too was built on a shootout in the final. Italy’s Divine Ponytail Roberto Baggio sent his spot-kick soaring into the sky, and the Brazilians danced the night away.

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That triumph was repeated eight years later in Tokyo. The five World Cups that followed have been disastrous for Brazil. “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same,” English poet Rudyard Kipling wrote. Try telling that to Brazilian supporters. Their life won’t be the same again until the next World Cup.

Who will win in 2026? Brazil, of course! Hope springs eternal.