As the final whistle blew in South Africa Friday, ending Holland's stunning 2-1 quarterfinal comeback win over Brazil, this tournament became infinitely more watchable.
Were there an over-under betting line on uses of the word "beautiful" by commentators, analysts, and fans, it would have plummeted on the spot.
That's not a coincidence.
Despite unremarkable competition from their qualifying stage through the group round—counting Group H also-ran Chile—and new coach Dunga's prosaic counter-attacking style involving heavy numbers back, the Brazilians have been touted since the first week of play as this World Cup's favorites.
Their history of joga bonito —the idea of creative, energetic play used to describe Brazil's world-class talents across half a century of success—was invoked in every pre- and post-match discussion.
Never mind that this year's iteration moved the ball much more mechanically and methodically up and down the pitch than the teams of Brazil's past. That Kaka, the Brazilians' brightest star, works best as a distributor and a source of downhill attacking momentum. Or even that Pele has bemoaned their style's inability "to encourage the fans."
Their every touch, annoyingly, has still been drooled over as a "flick."
Following along happily, spectators everywhere have picked up on talking heads' praise for Brazil's "beautiful" dribbles, passes, teamwork, shots—even for Maicon's tie-breaking effort against North Korea, a cross that accidentally ended up in goal.
It's not new, of course. One commentator in a knockout stage match remarked that observers have always wanted to watch two teams: their home country and Brazil.
Grating as past praise for their "beauty" was, at least it was deserved. Love them or hate them, the Brazilians steamrolled their way to championships in five of the 18 World Cups, including two of the past four.
In falling to an admittedly fortunate Dutch side Saturday, Brazil produced little past a well-struck through pass by Felipe Melo to capitalize on a smart run by Robinho for their lone goal. Nothing "beautiful"—no jaunty step-overs, no one-on-one wins against comically hapless defenders, and no improbably arcing long shots.
Just good tactics, though not often enough.
Going forward, legions of disappointed spectators may feel let down by Brazil's untimely exit. In reality, it's a crutch that's been kicked out from under them. Neither fortune nor the final score will shed a tear for the artistic tastes of the masses.
Teams of greater quality remain in this competition. Aside from the Netherlands, Germany have shown the attacking chops granted to Brazil by reputation and Argentina's forwards are an impressive mixed bunch of grinders and finesse players.
For a month, the buzz-word of this tournament has been "beautiful."
Now that the Dutch have stuffed a sock in that vuvuzela-esque, Brazil-centric chatter, I hope we can clear our heads and enjoy talking about what's good .
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