By Marty Gleason | Photo Ami Delic via


They’ve got an awful lot of angst in Brazil…

The 2014 World Cup is in Brazil. The last time Brazil hosted the World Cup (in 1950), the Brazilian team that was overwhelming favourite leaked two late goals in the final against Uruguay, leaving 200,000 Brazilian spectators in a shocked  deadly silence. The greatest sports attendance in modern times witnessed a sort of crushing anti-history.

It was Brazil’s JFK moment of shared national cataclysm. That magnificently talented 1950 team was ostracised and the uniform colours were changed. They also superstitiously never used another black goalkeeper for a half-century. Despite all the subsequent success, Brazil never got over that one loss.

So, July 2014 is Brazil’s chance to reverse a sixty-four year old national neurosis by winning a World Cup at home in the same stadium (in Rio de Janeiro) as the 1950 debacle – led by the dashing, dancing, handsome young Neymar. He’s the latest from the historical conveyor belt of supremely talented Brazilian forwards. Brazil, the most populous ‘soccer country’ in the world, has produced legendary names since the catastrophe of 1950: Pele, Garrincha, Jairzinho, Romario, Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho – World Cup winners all.

It is a testament to the chaotic creativity of the Brazilian nation. Yet many of those names put their feet up and immediately declined once mission had been accomplished, without pushing themselves to the extended excellence of which they were capable. Brazilian samba cliché dictates that immediate happiness beats arduous achievement. Epitomised by the player Ronaldinho, potentially the greatest player ever if only he’d knuckled down. He had instead watched his Dad die as a child and realised that tomorrow is never guaranteed – so get yours now.

Socrates is still one of the few revered figures – an intelligent maverick – who spoke out against the injustice of Brazil..”

But these days Brazil is aspirational and middle class, and perhaps resent their image as carefree beach bums. Fantasy has been replaced by reality. Strolling around in a midfielders’ fantasy has been replaced by the cold-blooded need to defend well, score goals and above all, win. This approach is at odds with the Brazil of the 1980s – all midfield and no goal effectiveness in the crunch. In 1982 Brazil lost the greatest ever World Cup match 3-2 to Italy despite a false ‘dominance’ of that game. There was a strolling, chain-smoking, qualified doctor in that team’s midfield named Socrates, who epitomised those times. In the 1980s Brazil’s government was still a military dictatorship, and Socrates was one of the brave people who tried to organise grassroots democracy in the face of that.

Socrates is still one of the few revered figures – an intelligent maverick – who spoke out against the injustice of Brazil’s corrupt hierarchies and backroom dealings. But he lived fast and died young  in 2011. There is now no respected figure to contradict a tournament that has drawn attention to Brazil’s social problems that have been characteristically swept under the rug by football. However, the Brazilian public themselves have now found a voice. You will hear many reports of Brazilian protests over education, health and such concerns at and around the stadiums throughout the tournament.

You may also hear about Brazil winning the World Cup, or heaven forbid, another 1950-style heartbreak.



Marty Gleason is a fan of sports, languages and South America. He is forever trying to convince people that the suits haven’t definitively won the game just yet, although he does on occasion wear a suit.

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