(Photo Credits: WXYZ.com)
On a hot summer morning of 16th July 1950, the mayor of the delightful city of Rio de Janeiro bellowed loud and clear to an exalted Brazilian audience awaiting a victory:
“You, players, who in less than a few hours will be hailed as champions by millions of compatriots. You, who have no rivals in the entire hemisphere. You, who will overcome any other competitor. You, who I already salute as victors.”
His braggadocio was however, short-lived. What unfolded in the Maracana that fateful day will never be forgotten. Except for a handful of Uruguayan fans who had made the trip under hostile circumstances to see their little-fancied national side take on the powerful Brazilian team, a crowd of nearly 250,000 was silenced as the away side notched a scarcely believable 2-1 victory. A full hour after referee George Reader blew the final whistle, no one moved, for no one could believe the travesty that had just unfolded.
It was the day an entire nation wept as their heroes, who had steamrolled every opposition in their sights had been humbled at the final frontier by the minnows.
Fast forward 48 years, and it was another World Cup final in which Brazil found themselves billed as the favorites. The showpiece match featured the Selecao as the defending champions while France was the outsiders looking to cause an upset. The Europeans had the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Lilian Thuram and Laurent Blanc in their ranks, but it was widely expected that the South Americans would easily topple them to win back-to-back titles. Fate, however, had other plans.
Little is known of what had happened ahead of the fateful final, but Brazil manager Mario Zagello chose to leave out arguably the best player in world back then, Ronaldo, for the showdown. Reasons of fatigue, injury and mental trauma due to a failed relationship were cited, but even stranger was the fact that the forward later played the full 90 minutes. El Fenomeno, however, cut a sorry figure that day and could only watch on as the Les Blues romped to a shocking 3-0 victory.
It was the 2nd time that an entire nation wept, as the lasting image of Ronaldo looking distraught with his boots around his shoulder made its way to the front pages of all the major newspapers across the world the next day.
Another 16 years later, a similar story would await Brazilians at the venue of the 1950 World Cup debacle. This time, the Selecao was up against Germany in the semi-final. The men in yellow were nowhere as good as many of their illustrious predecessors, and were missing two of their key players in the form of Neymar Jr. and Thiago Silva. They were still expected to win, even if not handsomely against the Die Mannschaft.
26 minutes into the game however, the cameras panned to a young Brazilian woman with tears rolling down her eyes as the scoreboard read 5-0 in favor of the eventual champions. No one described the tragedy better than Jonathan Pearce, who exclaimed,” Brazil is being humiliated, humbled and taken apart by Germany.” The game ended 7-1 that day, igniting and perhaps, enhancing the legend of the Maracanazo disaster that had occurred 64 years back.
It was a nightmare that had silenced the nation once again, whose inconsolable sobs and despairing cries rang through the world, perhaps through the universe that night.
In the history of football, no country has probably had a more defining effect on the game than Brazil. There’s a saying that goes, “Inglés hizo fútbol, brasileños lo perfeccionó” which when translated, means,” The English invented football, the Brazilians perfected it”. Their insatiable love for the game coupled with their god-like ability to entertain the audience and win the biggest trophies has captivated the world for decades, so much so that many a poet has defined Brazilian football as transcendental, as the pinnacle of art and romanticism and as the game’s eternal gold standard.
Certainly, it is not possible for a country to produce players of the calibre of Pele, Carlos Alberto, Jairzinho, Gerson, Garrincha, Zico, Romario, Ronaldino, Kaka and so on and so forth unless there is something euphoric in the air that translates into magic every time one or all of them stepped on the pitch. ”Juntos num só ritmo” is how they define it, all in one rhythm and all in sync; something that you would find in a Beethoven symphony or in Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”.
It cannot be explained, it can only be felt.
If football is a mistress, then Brazil is certainly her favorite muse. She has scarred and delighted the football-fanatic country to an equal extent, but what she has always done is given them a chance to right her wrongs and re-write history.
For her ill-treatment of the nation’s sentiments in the 1950 Final, she rewarded them by handing them the hallowed Jules Rimet Trophy forever in 1970, when the Canarinhas registered a third World Cup triumph. For her misdemeanor in the 1998 Final, she offered the much-maligned Ronaldo a shot at redemption, which he gleefully accepted by lifting the beautiful trophy in 2002.
As such, it remains to be seen just in what manner she presents herself in the World Cup this year, for her lover is seeking revenge once again.
Following the collapse in 2014, the Brazilian side has improved by leaps and bounds and is certainly a lot stronger than the one 4 years back. The meteoric rise of the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Phillipe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino means there will be much less pressure on the shoulders of superstar and the world’s most expensive player Neymar, this time around.
In defence, Marquinhos , Thiago Silva, Fagner and Marcelo certainly offer more stability while goalkeeper Allison is also coming on the back of an excellent season with Italian side AS Roma. The midfield boasts of Casemiro, Renato Augusto, Willian and Paulinho, among others, who have all had excellent seasons at their respective clubs. Manager Tite is also tactically much more nuanced than Luiz Felipe Scolari, which was reflected in the manner in which his team became the first to qualify for the “Summer Showdown”.
However, nothing in football, just like in life, is a foregone conclusion. Brazil are always the favorite no matter which competition they participate in, but history has shown that it takes a lot more than just individual panache to win a World Cup.
So, one can expect the search for the Hexa will continue in Russia in half a month’s time. With typical Brazilian flair, for sure. But it remains to be seen if they can infuse the necessary tactical astuteness into their play that was found so direly wanting the last time around..
Like any good movie which runs on parallel storylines, the real plot will be whether beneath all the razzmatazz that comes with Brazil, football grants her destiny child the absolution it seeks or if it will act – in poet John Keat’s immortal lines – as the “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”, the beautiful lady with no mercy once again.
Brazil, as a nation, has always awaited the World Cup. This time, however, it would seem that the World Cup is also awaiting Brazil.