Neil Humphreys: Why Brazil must stay in the World Cup
ROUND OF 16
(David Luiz 18)
(Alexis Sanchez 32)
- Brazil win 3-2 on penalties
Neymar inhaled and the world exhaled. Brazil survived. The hosts were not unceremoniously kicked out of their party.
The Selecao slumped to the turf, emotionally and physically spent, closed their eyes and expressed their gratitude in prayer.
Fifa's hierarchy and the Brazilian government undoubtedly did likewise behind closed doors. A country dropped to its knees in relief.
This riveting, record-breaking World Cup could survive without Brazil, but Brazil would struggle without the World Cup. The two are feeding each other, nourishing the other and keeping the hunger pangs at bay.
Neymar and Julio Cesar manfully shouldered the responsibilities expected of them in the penalty shootout against Chile, but their struggles were slight compared to the financial, conflicting and occasionally confusing burden placed on the Brazilian World Cup.
Fifa's temporary annexation of 12 cities and their surrounding districts is hurting some businesses and curtailing others.
Residents are inconvenienced on a daily basis by road closures, insufferable traffic congestion, no-go zones, whirring helicopters overhead and the omnipresent, overbearing gloved hand of law order, with pistols, machine guns and tear gas always at the ready.
But the Selecao serve as an emollient, soothing over the tension, acting as a comforting balm to societal wounds that are beyond skin deep.
When Big Phil Scolari's side dampen the flames of resentment, Brazilians come together, dancing to the same samba rhythms. Legitimate socio-economic tensions do not dissipate, but they are dampened. They are put on hold.
For Fifa and the Brazilian authorities, that is the best they can hope for.
Brazil's early exit is an unthinkable scenario; the outcome impossible to anticipate.
At the very least, the tournament loses the impudent Neymar, whose personal magnetism has provided a focal point and a rallying cry for previously disaffected Brazilians.
Around all 12 stadiums, Neymar jerseys outnumber all others by an incalculable ratio. To the naked eye, there are no other jerseys in the country. It's all about Neymar.
More than that, the tournament needs Brazil. For all the emphasis on the attacking swagger and the goal feast, a party without its hosts feels strangely muted, incomplete.
The music will keep playing, but the mood will be invariably distracted, as there is a collective look over the shoulder for the absent benefactor; a sense of regret at the early departure.
As long as Brazil remain in the tournament, the dream remains alive; a Maracana meeting of Brazil and Argentina; Neymar against Messi, the samba against the sublime, a date shaped by destiny.
That's not being disrespectful to Chile, the other South American nations and the indomitable Europeans from France, Germany and Holland.
At this stage, all would make worthy World Cup final participants, a fitting end to an intoxicating tournament that has already exceeded all expectations.
But they are not Brazil. Their party has been 64 years in the making. They are in no mood to go home early.
The collective, guttural, animalistic roar that echoed around the Maracana and drifted across Brazil, if not the globe, was not one of joy, euphoria or celebration, but of unmitigated relief.
Frayed nerves will hold for another week. Protestors are unlikely to daub anti-Fifa slogans on banners just yet. But they are waiting. Swimming against the tide now is a futile exercise.
Brazil's dramatic, tentative progress to the quarter-finals still serves as a Band Aid. It's stretched, but it'll remain in place as long as the Selecao keep swinging.
If Brazil's campaign leaves this beautiful tournament too early, it could be the start of something ugly in the country.