BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil -- You have to hand it to the Brazilian players. A few minutes after suffering the worst drubbing in the history of their national team, they did not resort to evasive tactics when it was time to explain what had just happened on the Estadio Mineirao pitch.
The problem was that none of them seemed to know the answer to the question. One by one, they negotiated the maze called the mixed zone with looks that gave away a feeling many people watching the semifinal against Germany had been able to pre-empt: This generation of Selecao stars will be forever marked by Tuesday's events in Belo Horizonte.
Dani Alves, dropped from the team after the Chile game in the round of 16, led the saddest of parades. "We have lost the game, and that hurts more than anything else," the Barcelona full-back said. "We are out of the final, and that would have been difficult to handle even if we had lost 1-0."
There was nowhere to hide from a score that kept flashing on the many monitors spread around the maze.
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Seven goals to one. It is a result that will mark a generation of footballers, supporters and -- why not -- journalists. The fact that Brazil still have a chance to save some face in Saturday's playoff for third place in Brasilia seemed much less a consolation prize than a nuisance for athletes who had just been humiliated on the biggest stage of their careers, in front of their own fans.
"We have to take it like men and try to bounce back," Willian said, with his gaze focusing on everything other than his interlocutor's eyes. "We are all family breadwinners and people with feelings. We know this defeat might haunt us for the rest of our lives."
Still, Brazil will have to take the field once more, and avoiding another debacle has become a matter of urgency for Luiz Felipe Scolari, who could not have looked more deflated. Gone was his dream of emulating Italy's Vittorio Pozzo as the only manager to win two World Cups, and in the same stride, he might have kissed goodbye to aspirations of a triumphant return to European football to resume a project abruptly aborted when he was dismissed by Chelsea in 2009.
As expected, Big Phil attempted to shoulder the blame. "Who is responsible for team selection and tactical choices? I am," he said. "So I am the person who will be remembered for the worst defeat, but we took a risk, and now we have to assimilate and keep living."
Scolari, it should be noted, put on the pitch a first XI that had never trained together.
Saturday's game will actually be the start of the Selecao's long walk of shame toward the 2018 World Cup. For a start, it will probably be the last time we will see a good number of players in a Brazil shirt.
Julio Cesar, who turns 35 in September, all but ruled himself out of future caps -- "maybe the next World Cup is beyond my reach" -- when trying to talk about the future of the team. The defeat was particularly hard on the goalkeeper, not only because of the number of balls in the back of his net but also due to the feeling that his teammates have a lot of work to do to shake off this Mineirazo.
"I wish we had lost 1-0, and I had made mistake," he said. "It's very hard what happened today. They simply scored four goals in six minutes, and all of a sudden we were all over the place. We lost our focus, and that was fatal against a team like Germany. These guys have been playing together for six years and contested a series of European championships and World Cup semifinals. They are experienced and pounced on our mistakes."
Oscar, who was propped up by Scolari on the pitch and seemingly admonished by the manager for weeping, was the image of somebody dreading to think about the next few months or years. "I am gutted; it was impossible not to feel like crying after a game like this," the scorer of Brazil's goal said.
In an attempt to pick up the pieces, David Luiz, whose first official game as Brazil captain ended with the horrendous sound of home fans booing the Selecao after applauding the Germans' seventh goal, called for calm.
"Life is not over," he said. "It's perhaps the hardest moments in our lives, but we need to be mature and own up to our mistakes. We have a chance to leave this World Cup with our heads up."
It will be much easier said than done. The drubbing in Belo Horizonte has, ironically, finally turned the Maracanazo, Brazil's famous defeat to Uruguay in the final match of the 1950 World Cup, into a thing of the ancient past. Haunting the Selecao now -- and for the foreseeable future -- is a night in which they were humbled, outclassed and made to look ordinary.
It is impossible not to think they are the main witnesses to the moment Brazilian football as we know it died a horrible and painful death at the hands of Germany. Bouncing back from that will take a lot more than words and promises.