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“Getting the Game”: my favourite 2010 soccer moment

December 6, 2010

2010 is almost over…

Here is the tale of my number 1 soccer moment of the year:

Brazil...sinking in despair...but not me!

Unfortunately, for a Brazilian fan like myself, 2010 will go down as a very forgettable year for the Samba Boys. It was during this last World Cup when we realized that the flow and grace of Jogo Bonito had been abolished – Brazilian football had become a mere dream; a distant and faded memory from brighter days. The country lost a bit of its spark in South Africa, their football lost the respect of the world, and skepticism replaced the usual optimism of the Brazilian people.

But not for me. I had an entirely different experience.

Isolated in Winnipeg (in the middle of a continent that couldn’t care less about soccer if they tried), I became filled with hope, love and a new found respect for the sport as soon as the curtain came down on Netherlands 2 x 1 Brazil.

And I blame my wife.

Elizabeth and I have been together for almost 10 years. She is a classic Canuck. Born in Winnipeg to parents of British descent, she’s lived here all her life. In 2002, during the Japan/Korea World Cup, I took her to Brazil to meet my family for the very first time. In our first week there, the Samba Boys were scheduled to play Turkey – at 3am Brazilian time. Naturally, my siblings and I didn’t even bother going to bed when that evening arrived. We stayed up waiting for the match anxiously. Elizabeth, on the other hand, had been sound asleep for hours…

The game starts…Ronaldo scores a beauty. Customary fireworks and loud honks and drums explode everywhere. The country erupts and lights up in the middle of the night. Elizabeth wakes up and rushes to the living room, scared for her life, hair all over the place: “what’s happening? What’s going on?”, she asks. “Ronaldo scored!”, I say while jumping up and down. “Oh…I see”, she says smiling, relieved: “I get it”.

That was her introduction to Brazil’s mania and obsession with the beautiful game. Quite startling and comically traumatic, one might say. And even though she did say “I get it”, I knew that she didn’t fully comprehend the importance of that moment to us Brazilians. I mean, how could she?! It was something completely alien to her. In her mind, it was just a goal; just a game…

Fast-forward to June, 2010. It’s match day in South Africa. Elizabeth and I are at a Latin American bar in Winnipeg watching Brazil play the Netherlands. It’s been eight years since that frightful evening of celebration in Brazil, and by now Elizabeth is fully used to my love affair with soccer. She humors me whenever I decide to deliver passionate monologues about the sport at home, usually during dinner. She has to be the most patient woman in the Solar System.

Because of her work schedule, Elizabeth hasn’t been able to watch most of the games from South Africa. This is only our second match together, having previously seen Brazil beat Ivory Coast in the group stage of the tournament. But the stakes are much higher now; this is a biggie, a classic quarter-final game between two massive teams.
To my excitement, she is fully “in the groove”. Sporting a nice blue jacket that reads “Brazil” on the back, Elizabeth’s eyes are glued to the television set. This is an extremely compelling match, and it’s also been compelling to watch my wife watching it. I feel rather proud.

Brazil scores first. A magnificent piece of magic orchestrated by Melo and Robinho. A superb pass, and a clinical kick. This is the most sublime performance Brazil has put on in four years. Dunga’s pragmatic tactics have finally achieved a perfect balance with Brazil’s attacking style.
Elizabeth is all smiles. I am drunk.
It’s all good.

But then, without rhyme or reason, it all falls apart. The skies begin to bruise, night falls in Port Elizabeth, and Brazil’s light starts to fade. Abruptly, the team goes supernova. The Netherlands score an equalizer. The players lose their heads. They yell, they fight. It gets ugly. All sense of discipline and grace is gone. And then a very short man in an orange shirt manages to head the ball in between two giant defenders, sending it to the back of the Brazilian net.

Dutchman Sneijder pulls out his screwdriver, and begins to dismantle the Brazilian mean machine.

As despair takes over the Brazilian team, now behind the brave and controlled Oranje, Elizabeth’s eyes are wide open, and she’s curled up into a ball, sinking in her seat – as if watching the desperate and tired faces of the Brazilians were too painful an experience.

We are into the last minutes of the match. I have yelled out a few curse words in Portuguese. Nobody seems to care. I have flashes of 2006…and 1998. I relive the drama of watching Zidane teach the Brazilians how to do the samba. Only right now I am mostly angry, not sad or panicking. Just angry. I have lost all faith.

We are into injury time. Ironically, as I abandon all hope, the commentator cries out “do not write this Brazilian side off, do not give up on them, not just yet”. Elizabeth shifts in her seat. She believes his words. She’s in complete silence. I’m already chugging drinks and asking for the bill.

The referee blows the last whistle. Thank God. He has put an entire nation out of their misery.

The game is over, but Elizabeth is still in a ball, quiet.

I look at her, and she’s crying. Tears are rolling down her face, pouring out. The Amazon river is running down my wife’s Canadian face. We hug. We don’t say anything for a while. The three or four Dutch fans that were watching the game at the bar are celebrating. The sea of yellow and green fans are mostly quiet. Some are angry, but most are just…sitting. Almost embarrassed.

I ask Elizabeth if she’s ok. Very quietly she tells me “it feels like…something that was so clearly supposed to happen was taken away from us.”

I gently dry her tears with my fingers, and then hug her tightly.

And I knew then that she “got it”.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Gilberto Scofield Jr permalink
    December 13, 2010 4:55 pm

    This is a supercool piece, Rod. Congrats! Heart warming, indeed.

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