I’ve read there are some Brazilians who don’t like the World Cup, which is shocking, and here’s another shocker – some Americans do. Experiencing the Event for the first time in Brazil, I was enthralled by World Cup fever.
The fever is fed by the 24/7 TV coverage, which came on my cable service over five channels, plus the recently added three hi-def channels. Every game was broadcast live, and then replayed multiple times.
Naturally, the Brazilian TV coverage included the unexpected camera shots of pretty women in the stadium. This blatant media pandering is not restricted to soccer, by the way, but includes all TV events, even formal sports such as Wimbledon.
I was pleased to see the US soccer team qualify for the World Cup and very much surprised they finished first in their group in the first round. Brazilians, however, have far greater expectations for their team, which is not surprising as Brazil is the only country to have qualified for every World Cup since it began in 1930.
When members of the Brazilian team returned home after losing to Holland in the quarterfinals, the police provided them with protection from angry mobs. And the Brazilian coach, Dunga, was immediately fired.
In contrast, when Maradona returned with his defeated team to Buenos Aires, they were greeted with cheers by their Argentine fans.
During the World Cup, where I live in Curitiba, every store and business, large and small, was closed to allow the employees to watch Brazil play on TV. Even the banks closed 90 minutes before televised game time. The idea of all US banks closing for a sports event being played on another continent is incomprehensible.
Brazilian people are bent on cheering for their country’s name, not only with their vuvuzelas, but with economic sacrifice as well. The financial loss to shop-owners here during the weeks of World Cup was in the millions of reais (except for the guys selling vuvuzelas), yet I didn’t hear any complaints about the lost revenue, as nothing was more important than supporting the yellow-and-green warriors far away in South Africa.
Equally important to team support was the national pride in hating Maradona and his team. When I asked Brazilians why they hated Argentina, the answer was simply, “It’s historic.”
Not to feel left out, I researched the political conflicts starting with the Portuguese and Spanish conquistadors, and discovered a football rivalry ripe with battles and accusations of cheating going back at least to 1937.
Brazil was not even involved in the famous “hand of God” goal facilitated by Maradona in the defeat of England in the 1986 World Cup, the same quarterfinal game that included Maradona’s “goal of the century,” when Maradona was the captain and led his team to World Cup victory in the final against West Germany.
When Germany crushed Maradona’s team in this year’s quarterfinal match, I could hear the fireworks going off all around my apartment. Was it mere envy because Brazil had lost the day before? I think not.
When I queried my Brazilian wife about this rivalry, a person I consider a levelheaded observer on most issues, she replied, “You can’t understand because you’re American.” What does that mean? “Rivalries come from the heart,” she said, “not the brain. Brazilians live by their hearts; Americans live by their brains.”
I found the evidence of her statement after Holland scored its second goal to jump ahead 2-1 in the quarterfinal match that signaled Brazil’s final appearance, and my wife left the room, insisting she was too nervous to watch the rest of the game.
Needless to say, with Brazil’s loss in the 2010 World Cup, there were a great number of people, every Brazilian to be exact, who had an opinion as to what went wrong for the fabled soccer dynasty.
Even before the World Cup began, coach Dunga had a multitude of critics.
The fact that Dunga was attempting to remake the entire Brazilian team and thereby change Brazil’s previously successful, aggressive or beautiful “jogo bonito” style was challenged by those who assume that some things should never change and dynasties never die.
With the hopes for Brazil’s sixth World Cup title gone, I confess it’s fun, even for a foreigner, to play “armchair quarterback,” to borrow a phrase from American football. In retrospect, let me summarize the defeat of the fallen heroes as it was explained to me by more people than I care to recall.
Besides the vocal Dunga-haters, many Brazilians placed the blame on Felipe Melo, who managed to defeat his own team by – take your pick:
Facilitating Holland’s first goal by blocking out Brazil’s famous goalie, Júlio César, and actually getting credited with the goal by Cup officials, thereby putting Melo in the history books as the first Brazilian player ever to score a goal against his own team in the 80-year history of World Cup play.
Neglecting to properly block Holland’s Wesley Sneijder, one of the shortest men on the field, when Sneijder headed a corner kick to score Holland’s second goal.
Failing to contain his emotions after these two errors resulted in Holland’s only goals and committing a flagrant foul, which caused him to be ejected from the game and forced Brazil to play a man down for the final 17 minutes.
From the Dunga detractors, I also heard, “Everyone knows Melo has problems controlling his temper. Dunga should have pulled him out of the game before he was ejected.”
Of course, no one knows exactly why Brazil lost. Perhaps it had little to do with Melo or Dunga. My point is, every Brazilian had an opinion on the subject, and it never has anything to do with Brazil being beaten by a better team.
In the 1998 World Cup, for example, when Brazil lost in the finals to France, 3-0, in France, Brazilians believed the game had been fixed.
My take on this phenomenon is Brazilians need a scapegoat. It’s the only way they can continue their faith and see the team as the greatest name in football. Once they’ve cornered the blame, they can store it in the dustbin of history and get back to their festas and “beautiful lives.”
Proof of my theory is the fireworks that went off in Curitiba when Brazil lost to Holland. Who lights fireworks after losing? This only happens in Brazil because it’s the spirit of the country to celebrate everything, even a loss. “Do we need a reason for a party? No! There’s always something to cheer about – we’re alive, and we can watch our team play in the World Cup.”
For my money, I wouldn’t mind seeing FIFA change some of the rules of the game. Why not accept video review of controversial points like they’ve done recently in American football? There were 32 cameras covering this year’s World Cup, more than enough to replay the numerous mistakes by the officials on the jumbo screens right in the arena, to the great chagrin of FIFA.
At least allow for a camera review of a contested goal, like in the second round Germany/ England match this year. For that matter, why not change the number of referees on the field from three to five? They would be in a better position to observe the Oscar-worthy histrionics of some of the players feigning injury.
What struck me as unusual witnessing World Cup fever for the first time was the way Brazilian women came out to support their team. In the US, it’s a plain fact – women do not watch sports on TV. Perhaps the women here pay more attention to whatever their men are paying attention to than American women.
The feminist revolution that swept the US a few decades ago, driving American women onto a path of independence, never reached full fruition in Brazil, stymied certainly by the military government in power at the time, among other factors.
Revolutions are never perfect; for example, statistics show the majority of American divorces today are being initiated by the wives. This dramatic fact is certainly a direct outcome of feminism, but divorce is rarely seen as a positive indicator in any culture.
I think women in Brazil are changing as well, albeit with less publicity. Recent data suggest Brazilian women are getting married later than in previous generations, postponing marriage to begin their careers and save money. But whatever their attitudes towards marriage, they were out in full force in June and July blowing their mini-vuvuzelas with the same World Cup fever as the men.
Although some things have not changed here, like World Cup fever, Brazil is changing, and probably faster than anyone imagines. In its embrace of the future, Brazil has moved securely from a third-world nation into the “second world” as the BRIC countries are now referred to.
Since 1980, the number of Brazilians benefiting from running water and public sewage has increased from 50 percent to 75 percent. Similarly, the population with access to electrical power at home expanded from 66 percent in 1980 to 90 percent in 1993.
With the recent discovery of its vast deepwater oil reserves in the Tupi oilfield, Brazil is poised in the coming decades to bypass its new second world status and move into the first world. In the last count, 72.6 million Brazilians maintained a first-world standard of life. Another 25.4 million constitute a lower middle class on its way to prosperity. As for the poor, their numbers are still high, 48.9 million.
It remains to be seen whether President Lula, or his possible successor, Dilma Rousseff, will be able to tackle the problem of Rio’s favelas in time to host the next World Cup in 2014. Perhaps this scary blight on Rio’s beauty will be dumped into the lap of a different political party, one with fewer scandals haunting its past than PT.
Some Brazilians I’ve spoken to are even speculating that without a rapid influx of financial assistance from the federal government, FIFA will take the World Cup away from Brazil for insufficient stadium sites. This conjecture leads to the dread of international embarrassment over Brazil’s financial ability to host the Olympics in 2016.
Maybe with a woman as president, Dilma or Marina Silva, Brazil would be in a better position to shine on the world stage. It might take a woman to recognize the value of long-term planning, which has never been a strong point for Brazilians.
Of one thing I am certain: the future of this country rests with its women.
Even if a woman is not the next President, the women of Brazil see what lies ahead. They recognize that if Brazil is to continue its forward march, it must conquer grand challenges that require long-term thinking.
Brazil must undergo a psychological transformation that has occurred in the US, EU, and other developed countries. This transformation includes facing the reality of feeding and housing large families.
Brazil’s women are leading the way: While the average childbearing number was about six children per Brazilian woman between 1940 and 1960, it has dropped today to a more sustainable number of 2.5.
Of course, there are greater problems in Brazil’s future than building new stadiums. There are still 17 million Brazilians living just above the starvation line. It’s going to take more than a World Cup victory inspired by 200 million vuvuzelas to end this sadness.
I believe the men of the Brazilian football team should learn to play with a more controllable strategy, planning for the future like Brazil’s women who are lowering family size to a more controllable number.
The team needs to play a cleaner, more disciplined game like the Europeans. Argentina learned this lesson in its crushing defeat by Germany. Interestingly, in the subsequent semifinal game between Germany and Spain, not a single yellow card was issued to either team.
And what lies ahead in the third place game and finals? Just ask the expert soothsayers I saw on Brazilian TV, a group of men and women whose profession is predicting the future. Better yet, ask the German sage, Paul the Octopus, known among locals as the “Oracle of Oberhausen.”
Hopefully, Brazil has learned something. After all, Dunga wouldn’t have used his substitute, the 2010 scapegoat Melo, except Dunga needed a replacement for midfielder Ramires, who was suspended from playing in the Holland game for his two yellow cards during Brazil’s defeat of Chile. Was it really necessary to earn two yellow cards during a second round, 3-0 victory?
Like Ramires, then Melo, Brazil fell in bitter self-defeat. Without changing old habits, history has a way of repeating itself.
Michael Rubin is an American living in Curitiba, Brazil. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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