In short time the greatest sporting spectacle in the world will begin. Hosted by Brazil, a nation with a near mythological footballing pedigree; oft-labelled the world’s favorite 2nd team. The near mythology contains heroes, idols, poets, artists, and a king, however, lurking over each of these players’ shoulders is a gargantuan tragic figure.
July 16, 1950, World Cup Final, Maracana, Rio de Janerio, Brazil. The Selecao, needing only a draw to win their first title, was facing South American and former World Cup winners Uruguay. The Sky Blue Ones, or La Celeste, were to face a Brazil side that had smashed Sweden and Spain a combined 13-2. As legend has it, a Uruguayan wet himself during the national anthem from the immense fear leading to the final. Many had already crowned Brazil the champions, the Uruguayans, as history goes, used the allotted 90 minutes to prove otherwise. In the end, the final and go ahead goal, was let in by an unfortunate, but arguably correct decision from Brazilian goalkeeper falecido* Moacir Barbosa.
He would never live down the Maracanazo. Ostracized and blamed for making the whole of the nation cry, Barbosa relived that one goal the rest of his days. In an interview just before he passed, he told the media that he thought of that goal for the last 50 years, both in his waking hours and late at night in his dreams.
The ghosts of the Maracanzo may have been a driving force behind the magic created on the field by the Selecao’s of the 60’s, 70’s, and, although barren of a World Cup, the early 80’s. The 90’s and 00’s introduced more pragmatic football, not exactly the beautiful game of yesteryear, perhaps a waning of that particular driving force.
It’s hard to imagine that the current generation of player is still harboring nightmares of Barbosa’s tragic figure ominously looming over their every move. But of the record-setting 5 World Cup titles Brazil has since won, none were raised on home soil. As current opinion stands at home for the Brazilians, the most commercially viable national team has long shed any sentiment of national pride. In fact, of the 23 players on the official roster, only four ply their trade in the domestic league with Fred being the only foreseeable starter of the four. Money has sent them to Europe. The weight of hosting duties and the expectation that the Selecao will exercise the demons and free the footballing soul of Barbosa may very well stir up a gut-wrenching fear. A fear that one misstep, and one of the 23 will instead exchange places with Barbosa rather than set him free.
In recent interviews for the ESPN series Inside: US Soccer’s March to Brazil, Julio discussed trying to isolate himself away from Barbosa, acknowledging the Maracanazo weighted heavily on the country. Cesar went on to share his own crucifixion after the errors leading to Brazil’s exit from 2010. In the same episode, Carlos Alberto Parreira, current Selecao technical director, discussed how Brazil is the only footballing superpower to never win the World Cup on home soil, referring to 1950. He went on to make the point that this is their chance to “re-write history.”
For the people of Brazil the affection towards the Selecao is split between the casual supporter and the diehard fanatic. The fanatic (as I am reminded countless times by my close friend, founder and contributor of Blog Vermelho, Louis Shroder) has long parted ways with the Selecao and in particular the easily corruptible governing body of Brazilian football, the CBF (Confederação Brasileira de Futebol). The diehard concerns himself with club above all else.
The great exporting nation of Brazil – oil, minerals, coffee, leather, supermodels, and beloved and above all else footballers. Starting in the 1980s, and exploding in the 1990s, European clubs have coveted no foreign player more than the Brazilian. The players have benefitted immensely, bring in some of the largest contracts and advertising deals in the world of football. With every give, there is a take, and in this case the heroes have been stripped from the domestic league and the diehard fans. Not to diminish those players that are left behind, the Brasileirao is one of the most competitive leagues in the world, but with 19 players honing their talents outside of the country it is not a far cry that emotional connections to ‘o canarinho’ have been severed.
The casual supporter is still lured in by the mythology, the national pride, and the spectacle. They are less concerned where the players make ends meet, if concerned at all. Hoping to witness the writing of a new page in the magical history of the Selecao. But this is all hazed, as a majority of both camps believe that politicians, the CBF, and FIFA are swindling the Brazilian people of billions of reais. Add in the Brazilian government “pacifying” the favelas, a squeezed out middle-class, a continually disenfranchised poverty and it is easy to see why the populace is filled with shame and disgust. Protests have become a norm over the past 12 months.
I’m holding out for the nation to galvanize. The players and the people in a symbiotic dance of support and artistry, feeding off one another. The performance on the pitch inspiring the protesters on the streets. The hearts of the players bleeding with the chants of the protesters. The weight of a nation shared between the millions. It’s optimistic and fool-hearted. It is more likely that the cup will continue, protests will continue, the wealthy echelon in the stands will not carry the same burden as the laborers in the street, no new hospitals or schools built, and a $319M stadium will remain unused in the Amazon after the cup. My love for the land of my parents keeps me locked in reality that this World Cup is far from magical, but my love of the game and the mythology surrounding my past heroes keeps my hope alive.
Until next time,
*falecido – portuguese for ‘the late’
PS – Here John Oliver breaks down the evils that are FIFA, he sums it up nicely (in 13 minutes that is).