Monday, May 24, 2010


The Americans insist on calling it soccer.
And don't care a hell of a lot about it.
So only the Americans (with the possible exception of you,  our Dear American Readers) won't be glued to their television screens as the world's greatest sports drama plays out.
But I will.
And so will most of you who are reading this blog.
Yes, my friends, the day is nigh.
The Nineteenth World Cup is upon us.
204 nations competed to win a place in the playoffs.
That's 12 nations more than are represented in the United Nations.
32 countries will compete against each other in the stadiums of South Africa.
It's a cataclysmic event: the first time a World Cup final has ever been held on African soil.

The television audience during the decisive game will be ten times greater than that of the Superbowl.
And, while we're talking about superlatives, let me brag about this: Brazil is the only nation to have played in every World Cup - and the only  nation to have won it five times.
We celebrate our victories on the jerseys worn by the Brazilian team:
Each star denotes a win. CBF is an abbreviation for the Brazilian Football Confederation. And, yes, we do spell the name of the country with an "s".

Experiencing a World Cup in Brazil is not like watching a sporting event.
Experiencing a World Cup in Brazil is like participating in mass hysteria.
There will be, according to the experts, more than fifteen thousand heart attacks suffered by Brazilians watching the games on television.
About five thousand of them will occur in women.
Can Brazil win this year?
God knows.
Will there be a massive party if we do?
You bet there will!
How do I know?
Because I participated in the last one.
Hundreds of thousands of liters of cachaça will be uncapped; millions of liters of beer will be swilled; people will be embracing strangers on the streets; it will be Carnival on steroids.
The television networks will switch their coverage from city to city, showing the celebrants drinking and dancing. The festivities will carry-on throughout the night, continue into the following morning.
And, when the triumphant team returns, the party will start all over again. Thousands will greet them at the airport; the heroes will visit every major city in the country; they’ll climb up onto open trucks and be paraded through the streets.
Here in Brazil, the media coverage of the World Cup has already begun. The national news, on Globo, Brazil’s largest television network, is featuring a daily five-minute profile of each player. They’ll keep it up until they work their way through all 22 members of the national team (first and second string).
Like bullfighters in Spain, most Brazilian footballers stem from humble origins. For a kid with talent, it’s a path to fame and riches. For a poor family, a kid with talent is a godsend.
Of the first five players profiled, we’ve been told that two had their umbilical cords buried (by their fathers) on a football pitch. It’s something you’re supposed to do if you want that recently-born infant of yours to grow up to be a great player.
Many of the parents of these young men have set up what you might call domestic shrines to their offspring. What do they contain? Well, you’ll generally find the jersey he wore in the state championship; the shoes he wore on the day he scored his first professional goal; the yellowing bit of newsprint where his picture appeared for the first time, and anything else that traces his trajectory from the first time he kicked a ball. The kids in the neighborhood visit those shrines. And dream. And then go out and work their tails off – for years. And thus is the Brazilian skill at the game of football perpetuated.
The choice of who gets to be on the national team is up to this man: Carlos Caetano Bledorn Verri, nicknamed Dunga.
Dunga was a great player in his own right. He played on the team that won the World Cup in 1994, and now he’s the técnico for the national team.
Here's Dunga's selection for the first string.
If they win, he’ll be a national hero for years to come.
If they lose, it’s likely Dunga will have to take a long vacation abroad, or go to coach a team in someplace very far away.
Ah! Those last three words (very far away) reminded me of something.
In addition to the player profiles, and the (almost) daily interviews with Dunga, Globo is running a series of mini-documentaries about the countries already scheduled to play against Brazil.
The first was about North Korea.
The program aired last week. 
The initial images were of marching men, huge statues of the “great leader”, archive footage of Kim Il Jung addressing a party congress, grim-faced solders and unfriendly cops. The audio began: “This is North Korea. It’s a dictatorship. People don’t laugh very much. You don’t hear a lot of music. And it appears that people don’t know how to dance very well. North Korea is very far away from Brazil…fortunately.”

An additional five minutes of every edition of the Jornal Nacional is given over to feature stories about the host country - South Africa.
Brazilians have recently learned that South Africans do know how to dance, that people smile a lot, that it isn’t a dictatorship and that there’s music everywhere.
This has led to a feeling that South Africans are very much like Brazilians and that the two countries are very similar. To a certain extent, this is true. Unfortunately, the similarities include high crime and unemployment rates. But the realization that they’re dealing with common problems has caused Brazilians to like South Africans even more. I expect there will be many Brazilians visiting South Africa, not only during the cup, but during the years to come. And if Brazil were to lose this year, many in this country are already saying they'd prefer it to be to the South Africans. (And not, God forbid, to the Argentinians.)
It doesn’t look, however, as if our friends in South Africa have much of a chance of pulling off a victory. At the moment, the bookmakers in London favor Spain, closely followed by Brazil and England. Argentina is next, then Holland, Germany and Italy. It’s going to be a big surprise if the World Champion doesn’t turn out to be one of those seven.
Check out the schedule of the early games here:

And place your bets.

Leighton - Monday


  1. Brazil has a formidable record in the World Cup. I first started to follow it in 1958 even though I went to a rugby playing school.
    1958 Brazil
    1962 Brazil
    1966 ENGLAND
    1970 Brazil
    1974 West Germany
    1978 Argentina
    1982 Italy
    1986 Argentina
    1990 West Germany
    1994 Brazil
    1998 France
    2002 Brazil
    2006 Italy

    I think I got all that right, and although Spain and Brazil are probable favourites I would not dismiss the chances of ENGLAND, Italy or the Ivory Coast.

  2. I saw Dunga play in 1994 here in the US...That was amazing to a young "soccer" player who had seen the sport come of age in her own country. I was one of only two girls in an all-boys league as a child--then among the first girls in each league for a bit. By 1994 I was 14 and playing travel (competition), ODP (Olympic Development Program), and Varsity (upper level high school).

    When all of these foreign futbol players came to our was a dream! Unfortunately, we don't get much of a chance to watch the World Cup in primetime (or real time) over here. It just doesn't have the audience. But one of these days I'll get there again.

    Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm.

    Southern City Mysteries

  3. Leighton, I realize it is only American baseball and it was only the New England region and not the entire country, but I do know how fans can go crazy when, finally, their team wins the top prize.

    In 2004, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series for the first time since 1918. Through the decades this sorry state of affairs was called "The Curse of the Bambino" because, in 1918, the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. Thus began, and still continues, the fiercest sports rivalry anywhere.

    The Red Sox won the World Series again in 2007 but nothing could match the 2004 win.
    There were parades not only in Boston but in far flung outposts of fandom, like New Hampshire.

    Brazil maybe crazy for football but there is no area more crazy about sports than Boston. Every game at Fenway Park has been sold out since May 15, 2003. This is all the more impressive in that baseball tickets cost more in Boston than they do anywhere else. It should also be kept in mind that the baseball season begins in early April. For Red Sox fans that means watching "The Boys of Summer" in Fenway Park wearing a woolen hat and a down parka.

    I won't get into a discussion about the New England Patriots because they are actually a team of one. Given that Tom Brady is married to Giselle Bundchen, his name may be somewhat familiar in Brazil.

  4. Aah, Beth. The sporting rivalries of the States are like a puff of breeze compared to the hurricanes and tornadoes of the European and Latin American rivalries.

    Both the French and Danish teams are staying in my small town of Knysna! The downside is that I have to get security clearance to get to my own home. No footballer is that important!

    When I last heard over 25,000 fans from the USA are coming to cheer their much improved team.

  5. Stan, I have to admit that neither New York nor Red Sox fans have been killed in the mass riots that I have read about after some "football" matches.

    "Soccer" is a more popular game than people outside the US realize. Since the early '80's, soccer is the sport for elementary and middle school aged children. Kids as young as 6 have teams, usually sponsored by the towns. Players who are good are chosen for traveling teams who play other towns in the area. It is a serious sport on the high school level and there are sports scholarships for soccer to colleges.

    The goal (no pun intended) is to move up through the ranks and make it to the Olympics or to a professional team. Since I live in New England, kids here don't have as great a chance to reach those heights in that we have snow on the ground for too much of the year but it is a serious sport in Florida and California where it can be played year round.


  6. I'm an England fan, and because I have relatives in Boston, and it was the first US town I visited, I'm a rare beast - an English baseball fan and the Red Sox are my team. Which I means I'm no stranger to disappointmen interspersed with odd bouts of elation.

    World Cups follow a set script here in the UK. Mass optimism beforehand. Best player gets injured. Optimism remains undimmed. Jingoistic media hype and ride this beyond all reasonable expectation. Team actually play and scrape to a few unconvincing victories, enough to ensure progress, though they looked burdened by aforesaid expectation. Media foment even more expectation. We are going to win they scream. We reach the quarter finals (about our level but whisper it quietly) and then lose, as ever, on the dreaded penalties. Cue mass wailing and gnashing of teeth, with perhaps an orchestrated hate campaign against the ref/opposition player/our own player who fouled up. People vow never to get swept up again. Four years later they get swept up again...which is why, despite being sober and being a rational lad at heart, under Italian coach Fabio Capello, who has installed some discipline, I can see England doing well. Semi finals perhaps. The winners will be one of Spain, Brazil or Argentina, though their coach is a lunatic.

    I will boldly predict that the once observed rule about football - that it's a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win, will not hold true. I see our Teutonic friends doing rather badly. Such a shame...

    Which probably means come July 11th Schweinsteiger or whoever will be lifting the cup.

  7. Wait until the northern hemisphere teams and Australia get to hear 30000 vuvuzelas each blowing at 130 decibels. Africa at its best! Can't wait to buy mine!

  8. Norman - NONE of us dismiss the possibility of England. Dan is being modest. You chaps are fielding a strong 11 this time around. And so is Italy.
    But the Ivory Coast????

    Michele - You're a girl after my own heart. Our youngest daughter, now 27, was also an avid soccer player in her younger days. And I spent many long hours watching her on the pitch.

    Beth - Tom who? Oh, yeah, I think I know who you mean. A baseball player who's married to Gisele (she spells her name with one "l".) Or is it basketball? Anyway, he's a hunk who plays one or the other of those American sports.
    BTW did you know that Gisele has a twin sister who isn't a model?
    I'm happy to hear that the US is finally beginning to embrace the Beautiful Game, but until it gets carried live on one of your major commercial television networks I fear that most Americans will regard it as a second-class sport. (Or is it the other way around?)

    Stan - Blocked from your home. Hell, I agree with you. No French or Danish footballer is that important. There are some others however...
    And, as to your vuvuzuelas, we already tremble in fear, having had them much played already here on Brazilian television.
    Your guys are gonna have to blow them at Uruguay, Mexico, and FRANCE before you get even close to blowing them at us. And, by then, you might well be blown out. (In both senses.) But I hope not. I really would like to see SA go far. It would be fantastic for the nation.

    Dan - Yes, he is a lunatic, and we're all quite delighted that he's coaching Argentina. We're equally delighted that they haven't got anyone on their team who was as good as the lunatic was back in his prime. Before he got fat, and into drugs, he was a joy to watch.
    Even if he was an Argentinean.

  9. I just want to say that the heart attack statistic was a masterful excuse for the photo. Are there any other women's health issues we should know about? I, for one, am eager to see, I mean, read about them.

  10. Leighton--As someone who grew up never having seen--and, more importantly, never having played--a game of soccer--I mean football without helmets--watching a match looks less like the Beautiful Game than Brownian Motion.

    I can't tell who's doing what, or why, or if they're doing it well. (The fault's in me, not the game.)

    I think appreciating a Brazilian all-country victory party frenzy would, however, be well within my perceptual range. If they make it to the finals, you got a couch I can sleep on?

    Sports championships are magical. I was in New York in 1969 when the Mets came out of nowhere to win the Series. For days after that, New Yorkers went around grinning at each other and breaking into spontaneous conversations in the street, restaurants, elevators, the subway, you name it. Gotham City having a Mayberry moment.

    I am, however, a Cubs fan. If they ever make it back to the Series, every time there's a close game Chicagoans will be having 15,000 heart attacks apiece.

    If they win...

    Nah. This is a mystery blog. Not science fiction.