Soccer….Family Style


Brutal Loss and Soul Searching
July 8, 2014, 11:59 pm
Filed under: FIFA, International Soccer

I’m a well established fan of the German national team, and yes, I enjoyed the game today. I’m happy for my second team and can’t wait to watch them in the final. But tonight made me think about all the friends we made in Brazil. As a US Soccer fan, I can certainly empathize with brutal, heartbreaking losses.

I was chatting with my friend and Portuguese teacher Thiago tonight, as he suffered in Sergipe, Brazil. I remembered for him the times the United States came in dead last in the World Cup (1998) or the time we lost brutally to Mexico in the Gold Cup (2009). But then I pointed out that if the US were to win every World Cup from here on out, it wouldn’t be until 2038 that we surpassed the number of championship stars on the Brazilian jersey. My daughter would be 35. I would be almost eligible for retirement. It’s brutal for Brazil to go out like this, but as I told him, it’s tough to feel sorry for too long for a country with that kind of history.

I’ve been struggling with what to say about our travels in Brazil, because I do not want to sound ungrateful or imply we didn’t have fun. It was a wonderful trip and I got to know my children deeper than I ever imagined as I watched them embrace a foreign culture wholeheartedly. I loved cheering on my country and felt lucky to see Brazil from the air and from the road.

But Brazil disappointed me in a way I’ve never experienced at the World Cup. I’ve been looking forward to coming to Brazil for as long as I can remember. On page 26 of my book, Passionate Soccer Love, I wrote about watching Brazilians climb to Sacre Coure in Paris in 1998 celebration of their team. I came to Brazil for that…the fervent passion of a nation of people raised on the beautiful game. But that wasn’t there. Brazilians weren’t obsessed with soccer. They were not glued to every game. In fact, it was often difficult to find a place to watch the games, something that had never been a challenge in previous World Cups. We drew the conclusion that Brazilians were perhaps only in love with Brazilian soccer, and even that, they were not so sure about this year. They wanted to win but couldn’t seem to find that sparkling joy they had in Paris sixteen years ago.

I can understand why. I thought I understood the Brazilian protests from here in the States. We all know FIFA is corrupt, we all know governments don’t always support the neediest. Traveling to Brazil, I was forced to reconcile the abject poverty of pothole-wrecked cobblestone streets juxtaposed with freshly poured concrete reaching out just two or three km from sparkling new airports…fresh pavement that never reached city center. I went to games in a stadium that has no corporate caretaker to manage its $250,000 annual operating cost after the World Cup leaves, and then fell, injured in the streets of Manaus because even basic infrastructure was neglected. I was terrified my kids would get hurt and need medical attention because the hospitals I saw were decrepit and frightening. I have traveled all over the world for soccer, but I’ve never been more grateful for my American life as I was in Brazil.

Brazil must now search its soul as a nation, as we all must come July 14. We live in a world where Costa Rica outlasted all her CONCACAF neighbors. Where England, Italy, Spain, and Portugal were sent packing from the first round, but the United States captured the world’s attention not just for escaping the Group of Death, but also rallying a hardcore and diverse fanbase in Brazil. We had more fans in the opening round matches than I remember at home game friedlies in the 90s. Heck…in the early 2000s. It was glorious…but then awful as I watched Brazil, the country I used to worship for its passion, tell my countrymen and women they needed to sit down for the game against Belgium. The United States discovered its passion for soccer, now we must see if that passion can fuel the revolution that will launch us to the next level of competition. Brazil seems to have lost its futbol soul somewhere in the broken cobblestones. Hopefully they can reclaim it and mend their hearts, and restore their beautiful game as they rebuild their streets and systems. Sleep well, soccer fans. Tomorrow is another day.

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1 Comment so far
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Fascinating post Tanya! It is kinda funny… Danny and I couch surfed in Brazil in 2011 for our book “Fields of Passion”. Although we found no trouble finding the passion and soccer games literally on EVERY corner. All 3 of our couch surfing hosts didn’t follow soccer at all! One of our host got arrested last year for protesting the spending on World Cup. Sad state of affairs indeed in Brazil! I was almost glad to be in Brazil, INDIANA instead of the country personally. Although it would have been fun to be there with Danny Donuts and others. Very ambivalent feelings for me, as it sounds like for you too. The Brazilians are still BEAUTIFUL people and I do hope they regain the passion… not only for soccer, but for life and helping those in need, and many other things! Thanks for the post!

Comment by Chip




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