There is a depressing air about Rio de Janeiro – it is cold, with driving, winter-like rain.
It seems incongruous, an affront against nature – a bit like the Brazilian national team losing 7-1 in a semifinal and crashing out of their home World Cup, unmourned by a planet astonished with the paucity of their play and the mediocrity of their proposal.
The staggering scale of the defeat – which clearly could have been even bigger had the Germans not taken their foot off the pedal – has proved almost too astonishing for the locals to assimilate. The mood in the city is a little as if the World Cup already belongs to history.
The staff in my local supermarket, who have spent the last few weeks decked out in yellow shirts with “Neymar” written on the back, have now reverted to their usual blue uniform. Many of the foreign fans, who created such a wonderful atmosphere, have gone home, carrying with them their memories of when the sun was shining and their team was still in the competition.
But the Argentines are coming! The blue and white hordes from the south have staged their own good-humoured noisy invasion over the past few weeks, and the wheel has now come full circle.
All roads lead to Maracana
Lionel Messi and company began their campaign in Rio’s iconic Maracana stadium on June 15. Now, on July 13, they conclude the competition with the final against the Germans – a decider in a best-of-three if we recall that the score stands at one win apiece after the finals of 1986 and 1990.
More recently, of course, the Germans have come out on top, eliminating Argentina at the quarter-final stage of the last two World Cups – on penalties in 2006, and with a thumping 4-0 win four years ago in South Africa.
On the first of those occasions, a teenage Lionel Messi was left languishing on the substitutes bench, unable to add his class to the cause.
He was similarly impotent in 2010, as Argentina’s defence collapsed and, in a bizarre inversion of common sense, he was forced to drop deep to try and set up the play for Carlos Tevez.
This time Argentina’s team is built around the little genius. Messi has often looked strangely passive during this tournament, waiting for the ball to be played to him with the air of a bored secretary in a morning bus queue.
But in every game he has suddenly come alive to produce a flash of magic. Can he do it again, with the frequency and effectiveness to tip the balance in favour of his side?
If so, then to the locals those rain clouds in Rio will seem all the more gloomy – Brazil certainly did not want to host the party only to see their neighbours and rivals walk off with the cake.