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Reflections On A Gigantic Victory

July 2, 2013
Fred, Neymar & Co: the unbearable lightness of being Brazilian

Fred, Neymar & Co: the unbearable lightness of being Brazilian

The biggest winner of the 2013 edition of the Confederations Cup was the biggest loser of the 2010 World Cup: football.

Sure, FIFA tried to spoil the party again, and the sport, by scheduling games between European squads in ridiculously hot places like Salvador at 1pm – but no dice. In the end, we saw relaxed, attacking, optimistic and free-flow football from all of the 8 participants.

And there were goals! Plenty of them – and pretty ones too. Who knew modern football, with all of its angst and advertisement-riddled existence, could still produce that?!

Sadly, all of that went missing in South Africa three years ago, and many (myself included) declared the total death of international football.

Even Spain, winners in South Africa with an incredibly bureaucratic style of football – heavy on the passing, meager on goals – managed to unleash their attacking power in Brazil: they beat Tahiti by a score of 10 x 0 (granted, it was Tahiti, but still; the Spain of 2010 would have given up after scoring 2 x 0, surely).

Granted, the Confederations Cup doesn’t produce the same kind of pressure we see in a  World Cup, but that’s not a good enough reason to diss this fine tournament. The squads we saw in action in Brazil this year all displayed the same level of commitment and passion we’ve seen in previous World Cups – no one was taking the competition lightly, and no one was sparing ammunition.

And if indeed football itself was restored, that meant the beautiful game had to cease being Spanish.

It needed to belong to its original spiritual owners: Brazil.

Amidst an unprecedented wave of political protests that swept the massive nation, the people of Brazil had very little faith in their team at the beginning of the tournament – occupying the 22nd position in FIFA’s rankings (an all-time low), Brazil’s football was internationally demoralized.

Morale, on and off the pitch, was hitting rock-bottom.

And while millions of brave youths took to the streets to demand the end of corruption – much of the ranting indeed aimed at FIFA and the organizing committees that resorted to public money in order to hurriedly build the venues for the 2014 World Cup – on the pitch Luiz Felipe Scolari programmed a revolution of his own.

Deemed by many as an old-fashioned manager who was past his prime, unable to reproduce the earlier successes from the last decade with Brazil and Portugal, Scolari methodically and patiently put together a team of skilled footballers and enthusiastically instilled in them a savage will to win – and he did it all in less than 7 months!

The passionate displays of patriotism on the streets were transferred into the stadiums, and I shall never forget the images  – and indeed the potent sonic experience – of watching the fans and players sing the full version of Brazil’s national anthem, even though FIFA would cut the instrumental accompaniment short due to time constraints (Brazil’s full anthem is impossibly long). But it didn’t matter to fans and players, who continued to sing long after the cut – sheer spine-tingling moments.

As people in Brazil now beautifully sum up the protests: “o gigante acordou”: the giant woke up.

I’m glad neither fans nor players ever displayed any form of cheap patriotic sentimentalism. Scolari and his boys kept it all professional. There was no empty rhetoric. There was no patronizing attempt to politicize the game and transfer the socio-political woes of the nation into a match of 11 guys kicking a ball around. There was simply a sincere will to bring the country together in order to make noise and express whatever we felt like expressing. It wasn’t pedantic. It wasn’t flowery. It was a loud, physical, visceral cry for attention; it was a statement.

There was a collective understanding that things needed to be shaken up a bit. Political corruption had to end. And Brazil’s football had to re-gain international prestige. It wasn’t ‘planned’. It simply unfolded that way. The more Brazil won on the pitch, and the more President Dilma listened to the demands of the people, the more the country realized its potential for change and victory.

Indeed, what brought the two movements together was this idea of ‘ENOUGH’: we will no longer be subjugated, neither in the Palaces of Brasilia, nor on the football pitch. And from thereon it all unfolded rapidly; at times aggressively, unflinchingly, hell-bent on the pursuit of victory – on and off the pitch.

In the end, given the build up of the whole situation, the inevitable happened: Brazil grounded Spain down in a frenetic final by a poetic score of 3 x 0.

No one saw it coming, and yet, it all seemed completely plausible. The more Brazil shoved football’s history down Spain’s throat, the more we went “oh, but of course, it’s Brazil.”

And yet, how magical – how beautifully bewitching that a supposed “crippled generation” of Brazilian footballers (22nd in the world, behind Bosnia!) would crush the very best that way, so confidently.

Spain were punched into paralysis. Brazil shut down every single playing space on the field, and shot down all Spaniard hope.

In the end Spain were left catatonic, as Fred and Neymar showed them that footballers don’t need to put on grim-faces (as is the Spaniard wont) in order to display concentration and competence on the pitch – victory can be achieved in the vintage, naive and carefree boyish style of wearing a smile on one’s face.

And if you perchance run into a slightly confused and comatose Xavi or Torres in the street, tell them not to worry.

There was nothing they could do. It was inevitable.

After all, the giant woke up.



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