A Gringo in Brazil

BRAZILIAN soccer fan, during the Brazil v Croatia Group F World Cup soccer match at the Olympic Stadium, Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, June 13, 2006. The other teams in Group F are Japan and Australia Photo via Newscom

Perhaps the most unique aspect of Americans’ soccer customs is our vested interest in other countries’ national teams. As a nation of immigrants, we sometimes have conflicted loyalties – root for the nation of my birth or the country in which I currently live? And even those of us born in the States may end up rooting for ancestral lands or marrying into a soccer-mad culture. For that reason, FFG guest writers will cover Brazil and Argentina’s World Cup hopes. Yesterday we heard  about Argentina from Ben Koch. Now, we move on to Dan Buller and Brazil.

My love for soccer started in Brazil. The World Cup in 1990 was the first World Cup in my world. In Brazil, it’s really popular to collect stickers around the time of the World Cup. I collected player stickers to complete a potato chip company poster of the 32 World Cup countries. It was incredibly easy to get the sticker for Canada or the US, but it seemed next to impossible to get the stickers for Italy and Brazil. Stickers for the World Cup are still a big thing in Brazil.

Everyone in the apartment building got together for the 1st round of the World Cup games in 1990. I just remember people lounging around the viewing area drinking beer and sitting on plastic chairs at plastic tables. There are a lot of outdoor plastic table sets in Brazil. I remember that the games were relaxed because Brazil was significantly better than the other teams in its group. Unfortunately, Brazil had to run into Argentina and lose in the round-of-16. That Brazilian seleção is known as maybe the worst team Brazil has sent to a World Cup.

By 1994, I was living in the United States. Thankfully, that particular World Cup was in the US, so all the games were on TV. My family’s vacation to Recife, Brazil, however, happened to fall in the middle of the World Cup schedule. Of course, during the games themselves, Brazil was closed for business. Banks publicize special hours of business for all Brazil World Cup games, not just the final rounds. Everyone was watching the games. Brazil went on to win that World Cup after a scoreless tie with Italy. Roberto Baggio, probably the most celebrated athlete of that soccer generation in Italy, missed the penalty that allowed Brazil to win it. It was a classic case of “mighty Casey striking out.”

After the US World Cup, the seleção’s first stop was in Recife, the city of my birth and the city where I happened to be that summer. I think over a million people went out in to the streets to welcome the team. TV crews filmed what seemed like the endless landing process of the airplane and followed the team as it paraded through the streets. It was Brazil’s first World Cup victory since 1970 and the world was finally as it should be.

What was funny though, was how Brazilians were critical of the team’s lack of style. It wasn’t like the free flowing Brazil team of 1982 which dazzled spectators and scored goals in bunches but ended up losing a heart-stopping game to Italy.

This year’s seleção is receiving some of the same criticism that the 1994 team received: “It’s too conservative” and the most damming of all “It lacks creativity.” Dunga, the captain of the ’94 squad, is the current Brazilian coach and is known for his defensive mindset on the field and off it. He’s even gone so far as to call the ’82 generation of Zico, Falcão and Sócrates a generation of “losers” that played pretty but couldn’t win the big one. Brazil has come to call Dunga’s style of soccer “futebol de resultados.” A term which can be loosely translated “results-oriented soccer.” It may not always be pretty, but it wins games and doesn’t open Brazil up to needless counter attacks.

I tend to think that it’s a little too dramatic to accuse any squad with Robinho and Kaká of lacking in creativity. It remains to be seen whether this Brazilian team will, in fact, convert their strategy into results. But I’m hopeful and optimistic of the chances of this seleção if everyone remains healthy. It’s important to remember that no matter the year, Brazil is sending a sort of “dream team” full of international stars. The trick has always been to convert the talent in to victories.

2 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Rupert J Pelfrey says:

    This is a great article. Does Gringo Prime have any more planned?

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