World Cup: Second Teams

Second Teams: Brazil

Editor’s note: This post continues PSP’s World Cup series, in which PSP’s writers and a few honored guests make the case for which team you should root for in the World Cup after the United States. Read the full series here.

The screams startled the mother and her two young children.

It was a hot day, and I had no air conditioning, so the door was left ajar to the sparsely furnished one-bedroom apartment I had just rented about five miles outside Kutztown, Pa.

From outside, the woman could see me sitting on the floor less than two feet from the television, yelling loudly in Portuguese and gesturing frantically. I turned and flashed a quick smile. It was quicker than explaining that it was the World Cup final and Brazil was playing Italy.

How could I even convey the importance of that game to her? She probably didn’t even know the World Cup was happening.

And this was no ordinary final. This time, there was more than just a trophy at stake. Brazil had three World Cup victories under its belt. The only other nation to have won that many titles was Germany, which meant that winning this game would make Brazil the ultimate world champion. And did I mention the game was scoreless, the overtime was running out and they were about to go into penalties?

Way too much to explain, so I flashed a sheepish smile. She promptly crossed the street.

The year was 1994, I was about to start my freshman year at Kutztown University, and Brazil won that game 3-2 in what I think is the most exciting penalty shootout in the history of the game. I still have a soft spot in my heart for goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel.

For those of you who think claiming the most World Cup victories after a penalty shootout doesn’t really prove you’re the best (like most of my Italian friends), let me remind you that Brazil now has five World Cup trophies, having won again in 2002.

Brazil: A country of underdogs

But we’re Americans, you say. Rooting for the underdog is what we do! Why should we pick Brazil as our second team? With more World Cup victories than any other team, that’s no underdog!

I’m no expert in soccer. In fact, the only time I care about it is during the World Cup.

Brazil crestBut I am Brazilian, and I can tell you we are a country of underdogs.

The country itself is rich, with the 7th highest GDP in the world, but most Brazilians struggle to feed their young. Brazil spent an estimated $11 billion on the tournament, more than any other country in the World Cup’s 84-year history.

Meanwhile, Brazilians die waiting for care in the waiting room of their local hospital. That is when there is a local hospital. Outside the major cities in smaller, more isolated communities, even small clinics are rare. And Brazilians who can afford it send their kids to private school, since public education is simply pitiful.

Yes, most Brazilians expected politicians and the already filthy rich to line their pockets with World Cup public funds, but many took to the streets anyway to ask that some of that cash be used to make things a little better for the people. Hey, it was worth a try, right?

So our schools suck, our government is corrupt, our hospitals are understaffed and lacking in supplies, our streets are full of potholes and our wages are so low there’s no way we can afford those discounted World Cup tickets.

But we have one thing – the beautiful game.

Soccer is a way of life in Brazil

You won’t find a single soccer mom in Brazil. We don’t play the game on manicured lawns with colorful team jerseys sporting the name of the printing shop down the street.

Our game is played by shirtless and barefoot boys on the unpaved roads of the favelas. It’s played on sandy beaches, with well-worn rubber flip-flops marking the edge of the pitch. It’s a mud-caked ball hitting the graffiti-covered wall of a city high-rise.

It’s not just a game. It’s a well-choreographed dance.

Like in any dance, the footwork matters. Wearing the Brazilian jersey are men who spent hours of their boyhood alone with a bouncing ball — knee, foot, back to the knee, head, foot again …  How long can they keep it in the air?

We’re good at this. When Brazilians are on a soccer field, the world takes notice.

It’s not just a game to us. Soccer is part of our culture, our national identity.

When Brazil plays, the country will stop. Workers will leave work and head home or to the local pub to watch the game. Stores will close their doors, and the country will come to a standstill. Everyone will wear the team colors in a rare show of patriotism.

This would happen whether or not the World Cup was taking place in Brazil. It happens every World Cup.

You should root for Brazil because winning at home would give Brazilians something to smile about in the face of a pretty harsh reality, not because we would get another World Cup trophy.

Not that we’d get to keep it anyway. FIFA no longer allows the winner to take the trophy home. The last trophy was on display in Rio de Janeiro after Brazil’s third win in 1970. It was stolen in 1983. It was made of solid gold, and word on the street is that the thieves melted it down. Now the winner gets a gold-plated replica.


  1. Andy Muenz says:

    Obviously, the US is my first choice. Colombia is second due to the Union connections. But for the 10th straight World Cup (going back to 1978 when the games were only available on the Spanish channel), at least part of my heart is with Brazil. I would have no problems if they took home the trophy for the 6th time.
    On a separate note, don’t tell him, but I think your husband does a GREAT job with this site! 🙂

  2. Bravo!!! But, I still have to root for Cameroon…reasons to follow next week!

  3. John Ling says:

    “So our schools suck, our government is corrupt, our hospitals are understaffed and lacking in supplies, our streets are full of potholes and our wages are so low …”
    Is she describing Brazil, or Philadelphia?

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