First there was dismay, then disbelief, then horror. A shocked Brazil watched one of the most spectacular collapses in World Cup history unfold with tears, curses and, finally, dejection. The host nation's comprehensive 7-1 destruction by Germany in Tuesday's semi-final will prompt a bout of soul-searching in this football obsessed nation, but in the immediate aftermath the reaction was simply confusion. On Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, police had to break up an unruly crowd with pepper spray. In São Paulo, angry crowds burned a Brazilian flag. In Recife, the authorities used teargas to restore order to the streets. Further along the coast, a concert at the Salvador Fan Fest was cancelled after fighting. The hosts had a great deal at stake in this tournament, which – at a cost of about $14bn (£8bn) – is the most expensive in history. President Dilma Rousseff, who is up for re-election in October, had promised to put on a "Cup of Cups". An essential part of that was victory for the home team. Brazil – the most successful nation in World Cup history – were expected to win a sixth title, erasing bitter memories of the defeat in the final of 1950, the last time the tournament was staged here. But Tuesday's thrashing will go down alongside that game as one of the most traumatic moments in Brazil's history. Manager Luis Felipe Scolari called it a "catastrophe". Commentator Galvao Bueno, the voice of football in Brazil, said it was "the worst blackout in Brazil's history". Goalkeeper Júlio César described it simply as "inexplicable". The Brazil captain, David Luiz, was forlorn. "I just wanted to see my people smiling. Everyone knows how much its was to see our country happy at least because of football. We couldn't, unfortunately. I'm sorry to you, all Brazilians." Even before this game, Brazil has at times resembled a nation on the verge of a nervous breakdown in this World Cup. As well as the street protests, the national team has been so emotional that the manager Luiz Felipe Scolari called in a psychologist to help them deal with the pressure. The loss of playmaker and national idol Neymar in the quarter-final only added to the unease. Ahead of the kickoff, TV stations showed images of deserted roads across the country as the nation tuned in to view the match. Tens of thousands of people had turned up to watch on the giant screens on Copacabana beach. Braving darkening skies, they were initially in an upbeat mood, belting out the samba rhythm of carnival classic I'm Going to Celebrate. The crowd sang the words: "Cry! I don't mind, The hour has come, You're going to pay me. You can cry. You can cry. Cry more!" An ominous thundercrack marked the start of the match, then the rains lashed down and the misery unfolding on the pitch 200 miles away in Belo Horizonte grew more intense. By the fourth goal, one disconsolate Brazil fan near the giant screens on Copacabana beach walked over to a group of Germans and handed them his national flag in a gesture of surrender. Many dejected fans wandered home at half time. Some bars closed early fearing the dark mood would lead to fights. By the final whistle, some shouted abuse at Scolari. Others cursed the striker Fred. A few even chanted for the removal of Rousseff. But for the most part, misery and humiliation prevailed above anger and recrimination and for many fans, this was the worst result in their lifetimes. Ricardo Canara, a fan amid the canary yellow throngs on Avenida Atlantica, blamed the crushing loss on the absence of Neymar, whose injury in the quarter-final had already plunged Brazil into gloom. "It's completely sad, very disappointing," he said. "We Brazilians don't know how to lose." There were small-scale scuffles that prompted panicked crowds to flee in all directions, spooking police who found themselves in the way. "This is a really bad day. We were all expecting a big party even though we knew the German team was one of the best. This result was beyond our worst imagination," said Luiza Ramos. After the game, hearing rumours of fighting on the beach, she asked her German boyfriend, Martin Becker, to change into a Brazil shirt on the way home through the streets. Becker said he had been well treated. "Everyone was very friendly. They all came up to me and said, 'If Germany meets Argentina in the final, you have to beat them." Another fan, Rodrigo Carvalho, lay on the side of the road waiting for his eyes to stop burning. "I didn't do anything. I just wanted to ask the police what was happening, then they sprayed me," he said. When asked to explain what happened, a police officer simply shrugged. "It's because Brazil lost," he said. Bruno Dana, a travel agent from Rio, was more nuanced, saying the result would not have a long-term effect. He said: "The bottom line is that everything's a party here. You can't stay sad. Sports are just like this." Others expressed sympathy. "I think Brazil got too stressed with the first goal because they weren't expecting it," said Rafaela Bueno, a visitor from Belo Horizonte "The team wasn't as well prepared as the Germans. The Brazilian team has a low average age. They're just not so balanced." But such was the scale of defeat that it also inspired black humour. One internet wag posted a doctored picture of the Christ the Redeemer statue with Uzi machine guns in each outstretched arm with the slogan: The Cup Stays. And when Oscar scored a consolation goal in the 90th minute, what was left of the crowd roared sarcastically as if they had won the tournament.