An American Gringo in Brazil (2002 Edition)

June 28, 2010 - Rio De Janeiro, BRAZIL - epa02228709 Brazilian soccer fans celebrate while watching the FIFA 2010 World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Brazil and Chile at the FIFA Fan Fest on the Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 28 June 2010.

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 our birth or the country in which we 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 writers have shared their experiences abroad. We’ve already hear from Dan Buller and Ben Koch. Now it’s Blake Owen’s turn to share his experiences with ‘o jogo bonito.’

The 2002 World Cup may have been held in South Korea, but it was celebrated in Brazil. And I happened to be there. I fortuitously, cough cough, picked the summer of a World Cup for the first of two semesters teaching English in Brazil. Having been to Brazil before – I spent my 16th summer in Rio – I knew something of the national religion, futebol, and originating from a US state with an obsession for all things college basketball (Kansas), I felt I could understand a collective following of sport. But no American sporting experience could possibly have prepared me for the national merriment that occurred when Brazil won the 2002 World Cup.

The very name of the national team, seleção, hints at the squad’s significance. No matter where you turned, the seleção was there. Newspaper reports were ubiquitous, of course, but commercials, fashion magazines, billboards, and all other means of marketing were devoted to the national team. It was certainly the right method to sell a product that summer. For instance, Brazil’s best player, Ronaldo, emerged for the semifinal curiously coifed. Within hours, imitations were atop the heads of males aged 12-70.

The best part about watching Brazilian World Cup matches in Brazil? You didn’t actually have to view the games to know the score. Brazilian goals were accompanied by jubilant fireworks and opponents’ scores bemoaned with a nationwide groan.

Ronaldo's outstanding haircut

In 2002, there was a distinct absence of the latter. Brazil advanced to the title match with nary a whiff of a draw, much less a loss. The final, against Germany, was much the same, containing two firework displays and no groans (aside from the reactions to Ronaldo’s hair). Shortly after the victory, downtown plazas of every city were bursting with revelers. Drums, firecrackers, car horns, and the relief of millions permeated the air. There was discussion of declaring a national holiday, and though it didn’t come to pass, no one went to work anyway.

While the Brazilians spent the next week or so celebrating, I had to depart for my less-enthusiastic home country. Upon returning to the States, I tried to follow the Brazilian World Cup members during their club campaigns, but had little success. Fox Soccer Channel (then Fox Sports World) wasn’t available through my cable provider, and though ESPN broadcast a few Champions League matches each year, they didn’t show any club games.

The sporadic nature of top-flight soccer coverage drove me to MLS. While I didn’t latch onto a specific team, I gradually began to follow my native superstars more than Brazil’s, cementing my full-blooded Yankiness at the 2006 World Cup. The USMNT’s valiant effort against eventual champions Italy captured my loyalty, and now my sporting emotions are tied to the exploits of Donovan and Dempsey, not Ronaldinho and Robinho.

Though I have to admit, deep down, I still want to try Ronaldo’s haircut.

One Comments Post a Comment
  1. robinoz0 says:

    you’d pick up lots of chicks with that hairstyle!

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