As her country recovers from its humiliating loss to Germany in the World Cup, President Dilma Rousseff sang a samba to express Brazil's resilience and gave no quarter to opponents who suggest that the soccer disaster may haunt her in the election this fall.
"Soccer doesn't mix with politics," Rousseff told a small group of foreign correspondents here Friday night. "We'll be discussing this defeat in Brazil for a long time to come," she added, defending her government's handling of the World Cup, which has unfolded without major problems. "It would have been more serious if we had lost outside the stadium than within it."
The discussion over the national team's stunning 7-1 loss to Germany on Tuesday has broadened into the political sphere: Aecio Neves, an opposition candidate, and his running mate, Aloysio Nunes, of Brazil's Social Democratic Party claim that Rousseff will suffer after politicizing the World Cup.
"She tried to catch a ride on the hopes of the Brazilian people," Nunes, a senator from Sao Paulo, told reporters after the defeat. "Just wait and see: Now she'll let the subject of the Cup die."
The loss to Germany has reverberated politically in a country where the fortunes of the national soccer team are an obsession rooted in a tradition in which Brazil has won five World Cup titles, more than any other nation. Brazil entered the tournament as a favorite.
Over the past year, Rousseff's government was sharply criticized over the cost of stadiums while transit projects that were supposed to be built for the World Cup were delayed. But before the loss to Germany, Rousseff, formerly a top aide to her influential predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, benefited from perceptions that the Cup was going smoothly, seeing her support among voters climb to 38 percent from 34 percent in a poll.
In a wide-ranging encounter over canapes and wine on the ground floor of the modernist presidential palace, Rousseff, 66, spoke of the sense of national loss in depth.
"I suffered through the game as all Brazilians did," she said, but she praised the humble manner in which Germany's players described their victory. When discussing how Brazil could learn from what happened, Rousseff, a leftist guerrilla during the country's military dictatorship before becoming an economist, uncharacteristically expressed herself in song.
"Get up, shake the dust off, get back on your feet," she said, singing several verses from "Pick Yourself Up," a samba by Paulo Vanzolini.
Rousseff also pointed out that World Cup victories or losses did not influence election outcomes in recent decades, citing the examples of 2002, when Brazil won the tournament but the candidate of the ruling Social Democrats lost the election, and 1998, when the national team lost in the final to France, but the incumbent, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, won re-election.
Going further, Rousseff said the loss should open the way for a more intense debate over how to improve Brazil's soccer institutions. She said measures were needed to financially strengthen clubs and training structures so that star players did not have to play abroad, as many of Brazil's top players do in Europe. (Brazil's World Cup Exit: Worse Than 1950 Trauma?)
While she is still the front-runner in the election scheduled for October, dissatisfaction with a sluggish economy, which is in its fourth consecutive year of slow growth, has opened her to criticism over her insistence on using a sprawling apparatus of state-controlled companies and banks to guide economic policies.
Rousseff defended her economic record, noting that inequality had diminished during her administration and that of da Silva, while unemployment had fallen to historic lows. "In concrete terms, this means your maid has the chance to sit in an airplane and travel to see her parents," she said, pointing to an example of how incomes have climbed in Brazil this century. (Brazil Process the Unthinkable)
Even though she was greeted with jeers by some fans at the opening match of the World Cup a month ago in Sao Paulo, Rousseff said she was looking forward to attending the final on Sunday, when she expects to sit with Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, and President Vladimir Putin of Russia. Argentina's president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, was expected to miss the game after her government announced that she had a throat ailment. (Pele Sets Brazil's Sights on Next World Cup)
Rousseff declined to say whether she was rooting for Germany, which eliminated Brazil from the tournament, or Argentina, a neighbor and Brazil's biggest historical rival in soccer.
"I'm the president of the nation," she said with a smile, explaining that she felt obligated as a host to treat every visiting team fairly. "I can't move a muscle in my face to indicate how I feel about this."