If the ball truly ever loved someone, it was Ronaldinho.
The love affair between football and Brazil is a long and glorious one. A nation that has made football spiritually its own and has perceived the game as a cause for celebration, a source of joy and a messenger of miracles.
The craze for the game in the Amazonian nation is beyond any questions. The fans in this country hold the game so dear to them that it surpasses perceived levels of sanity. Rich with tradition and as exceptionally diverse as the geography of the region itself, it is home to some of the most skilled footballers in the history of human existence.
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The religious fervour and devotion for the game in Brazil is a testament to their long and successful history at world tournaments.
Players dance on the pitch while supporters party in the stands, infusing a sense of carnival-like atmosphere, and creating some of the most exciting experiences on the planet.
The colours, the fireworks, the surrounding, the choreography, the manifestation of emotions and the absolute carnage are all emblematic of a vibrant culture that has provided the world with scintillating football worth of appreciation, even in opposition corridors.
Brazil, the nation that gets its name from the red-dyed Brazil wood available in the Amazonian region, which was at one point the nation’s main export before the coffee and sugar trade reigned supreme. The Portuguese overlords depended on the indigenous population from the rainforest for extraction. And they did so in exchange for trinkets. The increase in demand for the wealth of natural resources lead to a spike in the numbers of the slave trade, which eventually made the country a slave society.
Football made its way to Brazil with the movement of British railway workers to the country in the Southern hemisphere to improve the connectivity and commute in the Amazonian nation, the fifth largest national landmass in the world.
When Charles Miller, son of Scottish railway engineer John, returned to Brazil from his travels in Europe, where he fell in love with the beautiful game, brought back a couple of leather balls and a rulebook, one would assume that he did so out of passion and the joy of watching people in other regions of the world partake in the national hobby.
But even he wouldn’t have fathomed that the culturally diverse Brazil would go on to win more World Cups than any nation in history.
As Brazil opened her gates to the hordes of immigrants flocking in from Italy and Portugal, after the economic hardships in Europe in the late 1870s, the Mediterranean natives and the Iberians found common ground in similarities in language and their staunch belief in Catholicism to integrate within the local community.
So much so that 15 per cent of the Brazilian population today have Italian ancestry, the second biggest diaspora after the community of Portuguese descent.
As football was introduced as a European sport in the late 1800s, the exclusivity that favoured white men of social and economic privileges and the first-world prestige that came with it were very much relevant so much so that the administrators who ran the clubs in the nation were a representation of the elitist white men of the era.
But, with time, the game made its way through society as it trickled down from one class to another enamouring any soul who had the pleasure of touching a football, irrespective of birth, creed or clan.
The social change through the game was bolstered by the policies of nationalism promoted by Getulio Vargas, who used the sport as a tool to unite the vast, spread country, which proved to be a pathway for non-white players to shine.
For the non-white population of the land, football represented an opportunity to rise in the social structure and be acknowledged for what they could do, instead of being classified on basis of race.
The Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) is the only nation to appear in every single one of the 22 World Cup tournaments (Including Qatar 2022), winning five in the process.
The nation that won its very first Copa America in the year 1919, before fierce rivals and neighbours Argentina could, had to wait until 1958 to claim their status in football as World Champions.
But they did not get there overnight. In fact, they had to suffer a blow to the collective national psyche, that led to mass self-slaughter as they witnessed the chance to hoist their first World Cup at home slip through their hands.
1950 World Cup- How to scar a nation’s psyche.
The World Cup came back to grace the populace of earth in the year 1950 following a 12-year second world war-induced hiatus. As Brazil played hosts for the first ever time, with the hopes of holding the grandest prize in football aloft on home territory, the football-starved crowd in the Latin American region was absolutely invested in their national team’s success.
However, a cruel twist of fate awaited the 1,73,850 people in attendance as they would have to endure a national embarrassment at the hands of neighbours Uruguay in the final, now known as ‘Maracanazo’ or the ‘Blow of Maracana’.
A tournament format different to the one we know currently, tilted the balance of the race in favour of the home team as they only needed a draw against the touring La Celeste to claim their first-ever trophy at the competition. It all seemed flowery at the beginning as Brazil went ahead in the game through a Friaca strike before the break. But, the Brazilian dream turned into a nightmare as Uruguay mounted a second-half turnaround to win the game and claim their second world title.
The Amazonian nation which was convinced of glory mere minutes ago spiralled into madness as Juan Alberto Schiaffino and Alcides Ghiggia netted for the sky blue damning the home side. Unfortunately, the load of the blame fell on goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa, of black origins.
The keeper hitherto referred to as a brilliant shot-stopper was lambasted after the debacle on the international stage with Barbosa recollecting a scarring incident later in his life.
Barbosa, spotted at a bakery days after the national fiasco, was pointed at by a mum whispering to her ward, ‘You see him, son? That is the man that lost Brazil the World Cup!’.
But, unbeknownst to the world yet, just Kilometres away from the Maracana, resided Brazil’s salvation.
After Brazil’s loss to Uruguay in damning fashion in the final at Maracana, it is said that a 9-year-old Pele swore to his father to bring home the world cup, in presence of the picture of Jesus hanging on their house wall.
“If I’d been there, I wouldn’t have let Brazil lose”, declared a nine-year-old Pele, with the childlike wonder in his eyes still glazing.
And the Black Pearl delivered.
1958 World Cup – The Joy of the People and the Star Kid
Major changes had taken place in the national team following the Maracanazo, including the switch in the colours of the team’s jersey. Brazil wanted to do away with symbols related to their national embarrassment and opted for a new drip, which would go on to be iconic in every sense of the word.
Brazil became the first nation to win a World Cup on a foreign continent as they exorcised the demons from their 1950 defeat in Sweden in some fashion.
By this time, Brazil had undergone a revolution of sorts in terms of football dynamics and tapped into the true potential that lay dormant in the Amazonian country. Brazil, in their bright canary yellow shirts and cobalt blue shorts, played with a certain swagger that teams could only dream of. Their movement, so enticing, their passing, so accurate and the overall mood around the team, just so very joyous.
A 17-year-old Pele in Sweden during the 1958 World Cup (Twitter)The team managed by Vincente Feola, boasted the likes of Vava, Mario Zagallo, Mazzola, and Bellini alongside 17-year-old wunderkind Pele, who took the world by storm. But their crown jewel and the joy of the nation was undoubtedly ‘the bow-footed angel’ Garrincha.
Garrincha, a name coined by his doting sister in reference to the little brown bird Wren, was born with one leg shorter than the other whilst both pointed in different directions- His left turned outwards and right turned inwards.
The Alegria do Povo (People’s joy) who showed the world what was possible with a ball at one’s feet, caught the fancies of the passionate Brazilian crowd not least for his flamboyant style on the field but also his extravagant life off it.
The Brazilian populace could connect to the happy-go-lucky boy on a level so deep that it was personal. The fun-loving crowd in the South American country saw a bit of themselves in the bandy-legged lad weaving effortlessly through the defensive lines, who was a maverick off the field, indulging himself in the pleasures of the mortal life.
The combination of Garrincha and Pele gave the world what is known today as the ‘Best Three Minutes of Football’ on their debut playing alongside each other against the Soviet Union.
Brazil progressed to the knockout phase after topping their group with wins over Austria and the Soviet Union and drawing their game against England.
They then vanquished the Welsh, French and Swedish units in the quarters, semis and all-important finals to hoist the Jules Rimet cup high up in the air, thereby initiating the golden period of Brazilian football.
Pele, who scored the winner in the quarters against Wales, also notched up a hattrick against France en route to the finals, in which he scored twice against the Swedes. Pele caressed the ball as he got it under control before flicking it over the head of a bemused defender and volleyed it perfectly into the net to clinch the World’s grandest trophy for the first ever time in his nation’s history, thereby fulfilling his promise to his father. All while aged a tender 17. A star was born.
1962 World Cup- ‘Garrincha- Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney and a Snake Charmer all rolled into one’:
Post his first taste of international glory, Garrincha’s craving for alcohol and his propensity for the hedonistic took over as he gained weight due to his overindulgence with Brazilian spirits. The flaws of the ubiquitously adored genius off the field came to the fore when he once accidentally ran over his father under the influence of alcohol. Fathering children with his wife and mistresses alike, the Pau Grande native seemed to be going off the rails after his father’s passing.
But, none of his off-field antics or the bon vivant lifestyle he grew accustomed to had a negative impact on the field as he so displayed with majestic dominance in the subsequent world cup. This time, closer to home, in Chile.
The tournament remembered for the earthquake of magnanimous scale, and the dog that would later be named ‘Bi’ (Short for Bi-campeao, or Double Champion) by the player of the tournament the Garrincha himself. Bi provided some comic relief in a tournament marred by player clashes epitomised by the Battle of Santiago between hosts Chile and Italy, after which the visiting team had to be escorted by police for their own safety.
Bi was riotous on field as the night-shaded dog ran rings evading the advance of players before being beckoned by Jimmy Greaves. But, not without yet another act of defiance though as the cur saw fit to defile the Englishman’s whites as it passed water.
Brazil, now coached by Aymore Moreira, cruised past Mexico in their opening fixture before the draw against Czechoslovakia rendered Pele side-lined from the tournament after consistent hacking from frustrated defenders.
Garrincha at the 1962 World Cup (Twitter)
But, adversity brought out the best in the ‘bow-legged angel’. The Selecao advanced to the quarters with a win over Spain in their final group game. Their last eight encounters against England cemented Garrincha’s legacy as he went past hapless stoppers at will, bamboozling them with an array of manoeuvres that exemplified the mystical beauty of the Brazilian ‘Ginga’. A series of ‘pause-play’ runs, a swivel, a wiggle there, the English defence with stars spinning over their heads. The South Americans overwhelmed the European visitors 3-1 to advance to the last four, capped by a Garrincha curler.
Garrincha’s brace against the hosts in the semi-final was complemented by teammate Vava, who got a couple himself to end the hosts’ dream run.
The winger added another feather to his boa as he got his hands on the Jules Rimet cup yet again in a successful defence as they condemned Czechoslovakia to a 3-1 defeat.
The turmoil within Brazil due to the political circumstances that have prevailed in different time periods have had a direct correlation to the sentiments of the people living through the multiple regimes.
Vargas, who came to power through a system of patronage, realised that the workers earning their bread at factories could become the focal point of a new type of political school of known as populism as the rift between the labourers and the owners widened with the increase in profits for the bosses.
He transformed Brazil from an agricultural economy to an industrial powerhouse and gave birth to the Estado Novo (New State) with developmentalism at the centre of it.
But, as most political regimes do, Vargas’ time at the zenith of the nation polarised the crowd. Not everyone in the nation was appeased by the strength that the working class was gaining as the military troops had to endure pay cuts while the marginalised communities finally got their long-awaited dues.
An economic crisis, a culture of corruption and growing impatience among the supporters, as a result, led to Vargas’ passing by his own hands in August 1954.
The impending coup though came in the summer of 1964 as Joao Goulart was impeached by the military junta, as it seemed to the political representatives of the country that the only way to put the reins on everyday demonstrations and mutinies.
This led to a 20-year military dictatorship in the country that prevailed till the 1970s when mass mobilisation in the nation led to political reforms and the military junta stepping aside.
1970 World Cup- Pele’s Halo
Hacked out of the contest yet again at the World Cup in 1966 against Eusebio’s Portugal, the Brazilians conceded their trophy to hosts England that year.
As the media were starting to write the great man Tres Coracoes off, Pele demonstrated his resolve to script history.
Off the pitch, there was a nightly ritual headed by the devout Pele as the players of the Selecao would gather around to pray. Pray for the poor, the sick, and the unfortunate victims caught in the Vietnam War. But, never for victory. They had to earn it.
This time hosted in the sweltering heat of Mexico, the Canarino cruised into the knockouts with three straight wins in the group phase, before getting the better of Peru, Uruguay and ultimately Italy in a 4-1 hammering in the finals, which gave Mario Zagallo his first world cup in a suit, following up on his achievements as a player in the storied yellow.
Tarcisio Burgnich the Italian defender tasked with the unenviable task of man-marking Pele was quoted after the final uttering, I told myself he’s made of flesh and blood, just like me. I was wrong.”
If that speaks to Pele’s talent as a player, the next encounter between a journalist and the national idol encapsulates his eminence as a human being. A reporter who had questioned Pele’s greatness with the passage of time ahead of the world cup, bowed down in front of the record three-time World Cup winner, apologising for ever doubting him.
Pele helped the journalist up to his feet said with a smile on his face “Only God can forgive. And I am no God.”
Brazil, with their third victory, were done the honour of holding on to the prestigious Jules Rimet trophy to commemorate their unheralded achievement of the WC troika.
And a new trophy was commissioned. The one we have become accustomed to today.
Playing on the left- Socrates, Democracia Corinthiana and the 1982 World Cup:
It is not victory that matters. What matters is the content of this art. The truth is those who seek victory are looking for conformity
A democrat in times of military rule, and quite possibly the best player to never have lifted the World Cup was the toast of the nation as Brazil set sail to Spain for the grandest tournament known to man in 1982.
Holder of a medical degree, equipped with immense political acumen and a silky ability on the ball, ‘Doctor Socrates’ endeared himself to the masses as he led a prodigious team including the likes of the legendary Zico, Eder, Luizhinho, Serginho among others.
The Selecao, admired for its Futebol Arte enthralled the viewers as the man from Belem orchestrated one of the silkiest teams to ever have graced the field. The unit captured the fancies of the nation and the world alike with its brand of football, which transformed the sport into an art form.
The team that personified the beauty of the game in the world’s eyes were ousted by eventual winners Italy, thanks to a treble from Paulo Rossi, despite the Amazonians’ herculean efforts to claw back from a goal down twice as the game ended 3-2.
The lanky, rough-cut midfielder was ahead of his times in many an aspect as he pioneered the cause of democracy during a time in Brazil ruled by the military. His ‘Corinthian Democracy’ movement championed the cause of reason as he sought to spread the message of free voice.
Under his ideology, everyone at the club had the right to vote to decide on all affairs of the club. There is a running joke in Brazil that goes, Corinthians would take a vote even if the team bus had to be stopped for a player to answer nature’s call. Such was the prodigy of the far-sighted Socrates.
Their biggest political stroke though was having ‘Vote on 15th’ printed on their jerseys ahead of the 1982 multiparty elections, the first one of its kind in the nation since the military takeover nearly two decades back.
1994 World Cup – USA, Diano Ross, Divine Ponytail and Brazil’s Fourth Star
There exist certain football imagery that have the ability to transport the viewer to a time period no longer existent, without sullying the impact of the event.
Some images are inscribed in the annals of the beautiful game, however infamous they might seem.
Zinedine Zidane’s long walk past the glittery trophy in 2006 is one for starters. But, perhaps for an audience from an older generation, it most undoubtedly has to be the sulking image of ‘Il Divino Codino’ (The Divine Ponytail), Roberto Baggio after skying the all-important penalty to hand Brazil their fourth World Cup, this time around captained by Dunga under the watchful eye of Carlos Alberto Parriera.
Baggio played some magnificent football throughout the tournament to bring his beloved Italia to the summit clash but was left licking his wounds in dramatic fashion.
A world cup that had begun with performer Diana Ross’ missed penalty during the opening ceremony, closed out in a similar manner.
Brazil ended their 24 year-wait for another World Cup, but the brand of football they played was functional and not magical as the Amazonians would have preferred.
But, Bebeto’s ‘Rock the baby’ goal celebration to commemorate the birth of his son during the tournament left an everlasting image in the memory of those who followed the World Cup in the USA.
Though a 17-year-old teenage Ronaldo did not get any minutes in the final, the boy from Rio De Janeiro tasted his first moment of World Cup glory with a unit headlined by the likes of Romario, Mazinho Bebeto and Zinho.
2002 World Cup- Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho
God gives gifts to everyone. Some can write, and some can dance. He gave me the skill to play football and I make the most of it.
There was widespread cacophony in Latin America after the the1998 World Cup final as Zinedine Zidane’s France got their first World Cup on home soil with a 3-0 win over holders Brazil.
Ronaldo, a sheer force of nature by now, was subjected to congressional hearings amid controversies surrounding his performance in the final. There are varying reports to this day as some sources point to the striker suffering from a seizure on the day of the final, while some cite a ploy by sponsors Nike. Speculations of FIFA’s involvement and a sex scandal were also tossed in as the Canarinho relinquished their hold of the trophy.
But that is probably what made Brazil’s triumph in the 2002 World Cup all the more special, at least for the phenomenon.
Ronaldo had to undergo a tumultuous time leading up to the World Cup as his annoying knee injury tested the resolve of one of the most lethal men in front of goal in football history. The phenomenon later stated that he had to undergo rigorous rehabilitation process that would last up to 9 hours a day after his horrific injury during his time in Inter Milan.
However, his penance had paid off as he returned to full fitness just in time for the world cup and the then Brazilian boss Luiz Felipe Scolari trusted the striker to come up with the goods and he did.
The Selecao that made the trip to the far east is still regarded as one of the most entertaining team to ever step on the football field, personified by ‘El Brujo de Porto Alegre’ Ronaldinho himself.
Add the evergreen Rivalo to the mix and gaffer ‘Big Phil’ had the holy triumvirate at his disposal.
The presence of talented Roberto Carlos on the left and skipper Cafu on the right, deployed as rowing full-backs, allowed Scolari to start with three defenders at the back.
His tactical decisions though caused a huge uproar in his native country as the Brazilians believed the boss’ school master discipline techniques and stringent adherence to his system of football was stifling the true potential of this ingenious squad.
Scolari had lost the Brazilian people, but his players trusted him. They would go to war for the big man in charge and bought into the ‘Scolari Familia’ ideology. Locking themselves out from the outside world during World Cup preparations.
This unit encapsulated what it meant to pull on the famous yellow shirt both on and off the field. Players would roll up to the game using any possible surface as a percussion instrument as the sound of samba beats flowed everywhere on cue. The team’s warm-up was a spectacle in itself as players would change into battle gear whilst doing keep-ups involving every member of the squad and the ball wouldn’t have touched the ground once.
Such was the magnificence of the team that steamrolled their way past the group stages with three wins from three games before knocking out Belgium in the round of 16.
The quarter-final against England was where things truly signalled that this was going to be the year of the Amazonians once again as Ronaldinho produced the moment of magic.
English striker par excellence Michael Owen put the Three Lions ahead, only for Rivaldo to nullify the British advantage. Ronaldinho played a huge role in the equaliser as he picked up the ball at the centre of the park, glided past Paul Scholes, sent Ashley Cole into a tizzy with his trademark stepovers before rolling the ball into the path of Rivaldo, who made no mistake.
And then came the Ronaldinho miracle.
As England conceded a free kick closer to the halfway line than to the net nobody in the world could have foreseen what was about to transpire next. Well, nobody except the ‘Alegria do Futebol’, Ronaldinho.
The wizard lined the ball up and stood over it as he normally would ahead of a set piece. And as soon as the referee sounded his whistle, the ultimate trickster, who spotted David Seaman off his line, lobbed it past the hapless English goalkeeper from 50 yards out before erupting into a joyous celebration to send the Selecao faithful into delirium.
The image of a jubilant Ronaldinho clutching his jersey in delight remains a landmark moment in the modern epoch of the game.
What seemed impossible for many came easy to me. I always had the ‘Ginga’.
With England out of the way, Brazil took down Turkey in the final four to set up a date with destiny in their final matchup against Germany, led by the player of the tournament Oliver Kahn, who had hitherto been flawless in the contest.
Ronaldo made amends to remedy the scars of the previous edition as he pounced on a rare Kahn mistake following Rivaldo’s shot from outside the box to poke the ball into the net for the first goal in a hallmark of a true predator.
El Phenomenon, sporting THAT famous hairdo, with just a small patch of hair protruding right at the front of his head, turned in a second goal on the night to take his tally at the Korea/Japan edition to a staggering 8 goals as he claimed the golden boot to go with the World Cup the Canarinhos had won at the expense of the Germans.
A fifth World Cup. A record that stands to this day.
The outlook of the nation changed with the arrival of Lula, who promised a pro-poor, pro-growth message. His influence propelled the PT (Workers Party) to power.
The growth of the middle class under the aegis of the once shoeshine lad and steelworker, Lula, who went on to become head of the nation was commendable as he enjoyed a surge in popularity between the early 2000s to the 2010s.
Dilma Rousseff, chosen by Lula himself to succeed him at the office was known as an astute administrator, who served as Lula’s chief of staff and as the energy minister, ascended the throne.
Brazil was rocked by a series of scandals that began with an investigation into a carwash suspected of money laundering in the year 2014. Few would have thought that the inquiry would lead to corruption charges at the state-owned Petrobas as high-ranking officials took kickbacks in exchange for awarding contracts to construction companies at inflated rates.
The exposure of such matters at the top led to yet another economic crisis and issues with unemployment and inflation returned to the forefront. Dilma was impeached as a result of gross fiscal mismanagement, clearing the route for the ultra-conservative Jair Bolsonaro, a former military man to take advantage of the circumstances.
In the 2010s Brazil welcomed the world to its cradle of sport and carnival not once, but twice. First in 2014, when they hosted the World Cup and then again in 2016 when they were awarded the rights to conduct the Rio Olympics.
The 2014 World Cup probably has the match the local faithful would want to forget as they were in the stands when the eventual champions of the edition, Germany, broke home spirits as they hit seven past a hapless Brazil. A loss that the nation would take multiple years to recover from.
The Olympics, which cost a surplus of 12 million Euros was held under the pretence that it would create a whole swathe of job opportunities. But conversely, as it would turn out in reality, the unemployment rate surged past 11 per cent and so did the inflation. The population in the Favela required food rather than tickets to sporting events.
Certain pockets of the population felt alienated by not being able to enjoy the emotions of the Olympics while the money-laden rejoiced inside the renovated Maracana.
Granted, the transportation in the event region looked improved due to the demands of the international occasion, but the legacy it has left on the Rio metropolitan area as a whole. There has been no significant pathway linking Rio to other major municipalities.
The difference between tourists and residents is visible in high contrast for all to witness.
The most ironic thing though? The games were paid for with public money and the people who coughed up the cash were excluded from it. The committee responsible for the organisation of the event are the elite.
The organising committee of the Rio Olympics was 90 per cent men and hundred per cent white.
The White Elephant legacy that it has left behind is a cautionary tale for any nation that seeks to host an international event, but even more so is the negative consequences it has on the layman trying to get through life while a spectacle is ongoing around the corner.
This historical attitude of the rich towards the poor in a society with stark economic differences is probably what scares the people. Their obliviousness and non-privy to the dangers of international and economic gentrification are reflected in their attitude towards the game as they looked down upon the Selecao for straying away from its samba roots while eyeing to play in a more European-esque technically efficient, but vastly more mechanical manner.
But, the current crop of players called up to Tite’s squad look more in touch with their roots despite the fact they ply their trade at some of the biggest European clubs.
By the looks of it, Brazil has got its swagger back with the likes of technically sound players such as Raphina, Vinicius Junior, Anthony, the evergreen Dani Alves to support their poster boy Neymar, it seems that the common man in the Amazonian nation can once again rally behind the Canarinho to lift their spirits up.
People ask you about your dreams. The Champions League? The World Cup? The Ballon d’Or? Those are not dreams. Those are goals. My only dream was to take my parents out of the favela. There was no plan B. I was going to make it or die trying.
In a nation such as Brazil, where the economic disparity is rife and the difference between the wealthy and the poor is as stark as day and night, the beautiful game offered an escape from reality at the very least and an actual way out of economic hardships at best.
Football represents a portal to a better life in communes that live below the poverty line and are plagued by anti-social elements in the community such as drug gangs and delinquents.
The virtues of the Latin American nation that holds the role of divinity and familial values at the very core of its foundation can be witnessed by the manner in which their biggest football stars, however, short their span at the limelight may be, edify the economic status of their kin.
True, that an enormous bundle of talent which came from the streets and favelas of the colourful nation spiralled out of control or faded into obscurity after a certain juncture, but the ideals of the traditional family consciousness remain intact despite the glory, riches and social recognition.
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