Columns

Brazil after the World Cup

LANCE NEITA

Sunday, July 13, 2014    

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TEARS flowed like Sweet Afton on Tuesday following Brazil's 7-1 thrashing by Germany. There was weeping and wailing in the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte and on the screens around the globe as the world reacted with shock and disbelief at the humiliation handed out to the host country.

Here in Jamaica, we were glued to the television as the goals came in rapid-fire succession. We thought that one, and then two goals up for Germany would still leave room for a two-sided game, but alas, that was not to be. Before you could blink it was five-nil, and Brazil was history. It took several pints during half-time for us to recover, even as we realised that the second half would just be a matter of 45 minutes of hoping for at least a consolation goal.

It came in the last minute, but didn't do Brazil much good. The nation has been plunged into mourning, and the ripple effect is now being felt at the highest national levels where President Dilma Rousseff herself is becoming the target of protests.

The high cost of hosting the tournament had already provoked massive riots across the country. There will be more questions than answers on whether it was worth it. The debate will not spell anything good for Rousseff's re-election chances.

But the anticipated after-match rioting has not happened. There have been reports of fires, looting and shooting. But largely, the atmosphere around the cities that hosted the matches has been relatively quiet and peaceful. Brazil is more in a state of depression than in a state of war.

The country's woes have mounted as today they face the possibility of archrivals Argentina winning the World Cup on Brazilian soil. Already the Argentina fans are taunting the locals with songs, slogans and shirts, hell-bent on rubbing salt into the wounds. It's a long-time rivalry over football supremacy between the two countries.

Take, for example, Pele's 1,000th goal. It is a highly cherished moment in Brazil's history for more than one reason. The goal, popularly called O Milesimo (the thousandth), was scored from a penalty kick against Vasco da Gama at the Maracana Stadium on November 19, 1969. And guess what? the goalkeeper was an Argentinean, Bile Andrade. Brazilians never tire of reminding their Argentinean counterparts of the O Melisimo. And Argentina, in response, rubs in the point that the Pope is an Argentinean.

Maradona puts the whole thing in a nutshell. "My country loves beating Brazil more than any other team. The same goes for them. They get more pleasure from a victory over us than from one over The Netherlands, or Italy, Germany, or anybody else. It's the same with us. Nothing is as beautiful as beating Brazil."

With Argentina into the final against Germany, the Brazilians are now buying up German T-shirts to wear for the match. It would be the sweetest thing for them if the German machine could click like it did on Tuesday and deliver another battering.

So the stakes are high today for more than just a World Cup victory. There is also the matter of the host country reluctant to support either team for obvious reasons, but loving the game so well that they will be cheering all the beautiful moves.

Nothing else has had a deeper impact on a country's culture than their love of football. In fact, Brazil refers to itself as "O Pais do futebol" (the country of football).

Jamaica has been caught up in the drama and spirit of the fluid football style played by the Brazilians. There is a romance about their football -- they play it as if it were a dance.

Just watching them play when they were at their greatest inspired us to poetry. I was privileged to see the great man Pele himself play at the National Stadium when Cavalier football club brought Santos to Jamaica for an exhibition match in 1964. There was one memorable moment for me when Pele collected the ball, body-shifted an opponent, and in a single second the entire opposition was sent running in the wrong direction. And Pele still had the ball.

England's Daily Mirror chief sports writer Oliver Holt describes those golden moments of Brazilian magic in moving terms.

"What is your idea of beauty in football?" he asks in a column written June 12 this year.

"A Zinedine Zidane pirouette perhaps, a Cristiano Ronaldo free-kick, a Johan Cruyff turn, a long shot from Johnny Rep, a poacher's goal from Gerd Muller.

"Diego Maradona's mesmerising dribble and goal against England in the 1986 World Cup, maybe.

"Everyone has their own symbol of what encapsulates the magic of the game. Mine are pretty much all to do with Brazil.

"The fourth goal in the 1970 World Cup final against Italy, the way Clodoaldo started it all deep in his own half, body-swerving past four Italian players.

"Rivelino's curled, caressed pass down the left wing, Jairzinho's control and turn, and his pass to Pele.

"And the way Pele controlled the ball and then waited, the way he embraced the beauty of simplicity.

"The way he rolled that perfectly weighted pass into the path of Carlos Alberto whose shot nearly burst the net. That's beauty in football. That's joy. That's teamwork. That's genius.

"Then the wonderfully, magnificently flawed team of 1982: Zico, Eder, Socrates, gods to all of who us who were football-mad teenagers then. Think Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, and Rivaldo. Now Neymar, Oscar and David Luiz.

"Yes. England may be the home of football, but Brazil is where the game's soul has resided for the past 50 years."

Those mouthwatering line-ups are enough to make your lips dribble. When we think of what Brazil has given to the world, Tuesday's shame is both physical and mental. Jamaicans, whether or not we had bets on Germany, shared the pain. My own assessment in an earlier column had given the finals to Holland and Germany. I had accepted that this was not the Brazil we had seen before, or wanted to remember. But nobody anywhere in the world, even in Germany, expected this result.

Now, as one Globo (Brazil) columnist has said, the bitter post-mortems must begin. "Brazilian football has only one solution: to resuscitate. There is no way to go back, recuperate, react. Brazilian football has to be born again. It has to be reborn".

The country has been given a chance to salvage its pride, not yet on the football field, but with the staging of the Olympics in 2016. The preparations for the World Cup were heavily criticised, but the organisation held up and passed the test. "Now," says International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, "we are confident that we will have great games in Rio de Janeiro and that the sports-loving Brazilians will be wonderful hosts.

"We are very happy that many of the concerns which were mentioned before this World Cup did not turn into reality."

So it is on to the Olympics and a chance for Brazil to shine once more. Here is hoping that Brazil will find its soul again.

Lance Neita is a public relations and communications specialist. Comments to the Observer or to lanceneita@hotmail.com

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