Thursday, July 10, 2014


The World Cup in Brazil 2014

I’m sure nearly everybody watching the semifinal game between Germany and Brazil on July 8, 2014 experienced a similar feeling of shock and awe about midway through the first half. We could analyze forever why and how this happened and still not really understand or believe it. As somebody who experienced the excitement and disappointment throughout the past week, I’d like to share my take on Brazilian’s engagement with the World Cup, before and after this horrendous match.

I arrived in Salvador, Bahia on July 3, 2014. My plane was completely full, the Miami airport was decorated with FIFA paraphernalia, kids were juggling soccer balls in the gates. We were all going to arrive in Brazil right in time for the quarterfinals. Brazil had just beaten Chile in overtime with penalty kicks, and was still fairly strong in the competition. Everywhere I turned there were Brazilian flags, uniforms, green and yellow decorations, FIFA stickers and plaques. There was no escaping the World Cup—nearly everybody was wearing, representing, or talking about it in some way or another.

Despite these displays of excitement, I wondered how this compared to other World Cups, independent of Brazil being the host country. Because I’m from the U.S., I don’t have a frame of reference for ostentatious national pride in international soccer competitions. What do I know, maybe people put Brazilian flags on their cars, outside their houses and businesses for every World Cup and root for their teams just as intensely, whether in South Africa, Europe or in their own country? Because unless you’re directly in contact with a host city, a game, or in close proximity to a stadium, it appears to me that being Brazilian doesn’t privilege you at all for this World Cup (after the semifinal game it is actually just embarrassing...). The only way main difference I see is the incredible media coverage of the events and public responses to them. Every time you turn on the television somebody is commenting upon a game, a player, a host city, a protest, a party, etc. The commentators and programs are nonstop, serving as a way of rallying the country around soccer and their national team (especially around the martyr Neymar—but I’ll get to that later). This is especially necessary after the incredible resistance to FIFA and the Federal Government’s management of public funds to pull of this World Cup.

Despite the protests from July 2013 during the Confederations Cup and June 2014 in anticipation for the beginning of the World Cup, once the games began it most people, militant activists or not, stopped their screaming and fighting, bought some beer, put on a jersey, called up some friends or went down to the local bar and cheered for their team. (A study done by “Globo”, the conservative media monopoly in Brazil, said that something like 70% of Brazilians supported the World Cup after it began, compared to around 40% before it started).  I don’t mean to suggest that protests were not real or valid, they absolutely were. And it's important to note that the Federal Government declared that anybody protesting during the World Cup would receive 30 years in jail, an order that can only come from a near-dictatorial state. But as commentator John Oliver pointed out on his political show, football is like organized religion. You can hate and love FIFA at the same time for doing what's necessary to pull off such a spectacular event-- uniting the best players in the world and administrating it all despite local complications, regional differences, and logistical nightmares. However, in order to do so they'll crush anything in their path.  

The quarterfinal match Brazil x Columbia was on a Friday afternoon, and spirits were high. I went to the “FIFA Fan Fest” at the Barra Lighthouse in Salvador to check out the scene. It’s basically a huge stage and screen set up by FIFA in strategic spots around major cities to encourage collective viewing and partying. They had a full line up of local musical celebrities, and security at the entrance with FIFA’s own police force checking for weapons to ensure the viewers’ safety. It was an impressive operation, and certainly a festive one. It seems from the games and the celebrations that Brazil successfully attracted a huge tourist presence. And why not? Brazil has so much to offer to tourists, first of all its incredible nonstop seductive party hard attitude, not to mention its beautiful beaches, delicious food and natural wonders. I’m almost certain nothing productive has gotten done throughout this World Cup season to really advance Brazil in any way. I only hope some people made good money off the tourists. Though even if some did, it’s nothing near a majority.

I stayed at the Fan Fest just for a portion of the Germany x France game, knowing that it would get ridiculously crazy and crowded during the Brazil game. I went to a friend’s house with good food, drinks and company to watch the game, which was great fun and a very positive atmosphere. With a quick goal in the first half, we all felt good about Brazil’s chances to continue on. We cheered and hugged and danced for each goal, opened beers and passed drinks merrily.

Until Tiago Silva, the Brazilian team’s captain, got his second yellow card and at the bottom of the screen appeared a notice that he wouldn’t appear in the next game. I don’t think we quite understood the severity of that absence until the 7-1 loss, especially since this small blip was vastly overshadowed by Neymar’s upcoming injury.

So... in my opinion, Neymar had been flopping and getting fouled all over the place the entire competition. He hasn’t been playing his best, nor has the entire Brazilian team. All in all, I think Brazilians and their sympathizers have been pretty disappointed despite their wins. So much so that I (and probably others) have started to come up with conspiracy theories about the outcome of games to appease and please which parties. Conspiracies aside, Neymar’s injury had some very critical effects and outcome for the Brazilian team, and its supporters...

When Neymar went down, I wasn’t surprised or particularly worried. He seemed to always put on a painful show to sell the foul. Of course the medical team would come out right away for their best player and take him off the field in a stretcher –just in case. When he didn’t come back in the game I just figured it was because they were obviously winning and it was better for him to recuperate. I honestly couldn’t imagine that he would be so injured as to not return for the rest of the World Cup.

When the Globo announcers stated with great remorse that Neymar would not be returning, we were all shocked and I think deep down knew that Brazil was screwed for the next game. Neymar has become Brazil’s soccer superstar, scoring the most goals and dancing around nearly any defender with grace. He has been the face of commercials, figurines, and the most sold jersey. Even before he went down I noticed that nearly everybody was wearing #10 with Neymar Jr. to celebrate their favorite player.

With this tragedy, the media went wild. I can’t tell you how many times I saw the clip of him getting hit in the back and falling on the ground, his leg twitching and his face wailing with pain. It was as if that moment were the biggest tragedy and the most relevant event of the century, to be discussed nonstop. We heard from his doctor, clips and updates from his treatment, animated replays and diagrams of his injury. Neymar produced videos for the “Brazilian people” to rally them for the semifinal game. Globo published polls and opinions from people optimistic about the team’s future. There were multiple interviews with the head coach to determine the new line up, the new strategy without Neymar and the team’s captain. We were told to play the game “for Neymar”, to honor his absence with a win that would put Brazil in the final match at the Rio de Janeiro stadium Maracanã.

These 3 days of media overload successfully brainwashed viewers into believing that the Brazilian team had a chance to win the semifinal game. We got ready for the game same way as the quarterfinals –elaborate costumes with Brazil’s colors, flags, businesses closing at noon on a Tuesday, friends and family gathering to watch the game, bars and FIFA Fan Fest filling up in anticipation with excited, drunk supporters. During the warm up Tiago Silva, the captain, roamed in and out of field in his street clothes, there to support his team and encourage them through the game. During Brazil’s national anthem David Luiz and Cesar (the golie) held Neymar’s jersey in solidarity. People were crying with pride and cheering with all their heart.

It’s with this all this build up that we, Brazilians and their supporters, experienced the greatest deception with a 5-0 first half and a 7-1 final score. After the 3rd goal I knew it was over, but couldn’t imagine how bad it could get. It was as if the team had gaping holes that the German players could just poke through with no problem, and Cesar couldn’t stop a single shot from entering the goal. After the 5th goal it became clear the score could be astronomically, embarrassingly high—a blowout of proportions never before witnessed in World Cup history.

How could this happen in the host country? Hadn’t Dilma and the Federal Government successfully bought out the refs or other teams to ensure peace and contentment for the Brazilian people, after they had dealt with the terrible consequences of building stadiums, redirecting resources, and nearly bankrupting local funds to put on the World Cup for a foreign audience? And if they didn’t, why did the global media manipulate us into thinking that, without Neymar and Tiago Silva, the Brazilian team even had a chance? Maybe, just maybe, it’s related to the fact that Globo –the media monopoly in Brazil—is against Dilma and her party PT, maybe they wanted Brazilians to be so disappointed and upset with the outcome of the World Cup they will surely vote Dilma out during the upcoming October elections... Or maybe Germany is just an incredibly strong team and will easily beat Argentina for the title? Maybe Neymar is really hurt and can’t play, maybe he needs to recuperate despite the fact he’s now walking no problem and after the media ploy, has become a bigger star and more important Brazilian figure than ever...

I could go on about my ideas of conspiracy, because it’s hard for me to imagine that these turn of events were, in some way, without planning. There is too much money exchanging big hands. But all of that aside, this is where we’re at with Brazil in the World Cup. I am shocked and nervous that the Brazilian team has to play for 3rd place this coming Saturday. I only hope this time the team and the coach realize the gravity of their situation and revise their game plan to at least put on a respectful loss for 4th place. Who knows, maybe they’ll surprise us. Maybe with their captain Tiago Silva back in the mix, a few substitutions, and a more realistic attitude they’ll pull of a win for 3rd place. In any case, that semifinal game will surely go down in soccer history as the biggest upset and embarrassment for any host country—or probably any country at all.

Yesterday everybody was talking about the game as if it were a bad dream. Most were just laughing in deception, as if to throw their hands up in the air and say, “Look at our joke of a country!” Supposedly the “country of football” Brazil is now an international embarrassment, what do they have now? With heads in between their legs, remorsefully heading home, getting back to work, and simply pushing through it like the innumerous other challenges of being Brazilian because despite it all, “a vida continua”. Life goes on...

And now I root for Argentina. VIVA AMÉRICA LÁTINA!!!

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