The Estádio do Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro saw two of the finest soccer teams in the world take the field on Sunday, and the deafening roar of Brazil’s fans throughout told the surprising story of utter dominance by the host nation, cruising past their Spanish visitors in the Confederations Cup Final 3-0.
By beating the reigning World and European champions from Spain in such comprehensive fashion the mighty Selecao gave an entire nation the confidence it was craving. Feeding the formerly-fragile belief that in 12 months time the world will learn once more which country gave soccer its distinction as the Beautiful Game, at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Because for Brazilians this match was about so much more than winning an eight-team tournament that also featured Mexico, Uruguay and Italy. Sunday’s triumph came over a country endangering something far too personal for Brazil or its players to ignore, a threat to something even more precious to the Brazilian people than their five World Cup titles — style.
Brazilian fans at each and every venue booed Spain during this year’s tournament, which isn’t unheard of for the favorites, but these were no idle chastisements.
The “tiki-taka” of quick passing and possession adopted by Spain and FC Barcelona, the world’s most popular club team which features several Spanish national team players, has had fans and commentators from all over the world dropping phrases like “best team ever”, and “that’s the way the game is meant to be played”. (Neymar will be at Barcelona this fall, joining fellow Selecao teammate Dani Alves who has been there for years).
Brazilian soccer has always been appreciated for its quality, but even more so for its unparalleled elegance, arrogance and beauty with which it’s played. In recent years Brazil hasn’t produced much beyond the ego, but Brazilians consider ownership of all things soccer a birthright, and the fawning over Spain and Barcelona has not gone unnoticed in South America, especially when the best player on earth, Leo Messi, is an Argentine who plays for Barcelona.
Winning this relatively trivial title was worth little, but hearing thousands of jubilant Brazilians exiting the Estádio do Maracanã while shimmying to the Samba rhythm of the Selecao’s smack-down as Spain’s upstart soccer philosophy lay in tatters behind them?
Styles make fights in a boxing ring or on a futbol field, and this final was about two things, pride, and which style would prevail. And in soccer, that’s more than enough.
In yesterday’s preview I mentioned that this Confederations Cup final would give us all a taste of the spectacle we will see at Brazil 2014 next year, and before the anthems were over Brazil’s players and fans made sure that mission was accomplished.
Brazil’s anthem is entitled ‘Hino Nacional Brasileiro”, which literally means Brazilian National Anthem. The song itself sounds surprisingly old-fashioned for a country famous for things like music, rhythm, soccer, sex and dancing. But the significance of Sunday’s final oozed through the screen watching the Selecao players prepare for battle embracing joy, religion, conviction and duty as the crowd belted out the anthem all around them.
Swagger comes after the first whistle.
The final score in this game could easily have been 6-2 in favor of Brazil, which played fantastic, although only one of its three goals was anything to write home about. The one by Neymar’s left foot into the top of the net to make it 2-0 right before halftime, set up by Oscar. Both these young stars are just 21, and Neymar was named tournament MVP after showing doubters he’s far more than a youtube sensation.
But it was the way Brazil dominated every facet of the game that was nothing short of staggering.
Fred, the striker for Brazil, pounced on a loose ball and grabbed a goal off his rear-end to open the scoring inside the first two minutes. The crowd, still buzzing from the anthem, responded with two hours of Carnival at Brazil’s national stadium in June.
The Brazilian attack was fluid, Marcelo was heavily involved out of his left back spot, Neymar and Fred continued their excellent chemistry up front, but it was the defense employed by Brazil’s coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, which smacked La Furia Roja right in the mouth. Big Phil’s brand of Jogo Bonito includes a bit of brute force, and the wobbling World Cup champions from Spain never got their signature possession going. Spain hadn’t lost by a three-goal margin in a competitive match in nearly 30 years, until Sunday.
David Luiz plays for Chelsea in the English Premier League. He and his abundant curls were flying all over the field, especially on an unbelievable goal-line clearance denying Pedro in the first half.
Luiz’s clearance was one of many vivid instances where you could see just how much it meant to those Brazilians playing overseas to connect with fans and the country of their birth. Their actions reminded spectators and themselves that while they may be making millions of dollars across the Atlantic, they would forever be Brazilian footballers.
Paulinho made life awfully difficult for Spanish midfield maestros Xavi and Andres Iniesta, and the 24-year-old midfielder from who plays for Corinthians earned third best player at the tourney. Julio Cesar made a few key saves in Brazil’s net, Fred added his second goal just after halftime to make it 3-0 and even if Sergio Ramos hadn’t missed a penalty for Spain after that, or Gerard Pique hadn’t been sent off for tripping Neymar – Spain had zero chance of winning in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.
This humiliating defeat could end up being a good thing for Spain which has been fending off challengers since winning Euro 2008, especially if it takes the target off its back heading next year’s World Cup. And it certainly opened up the field for countries like Germany, Argentina, Italy, the Netherlands and a certain scantily clad host nation.
“Nobody expected such an emphatic result, not against the world champions,” said Brazil’s coach Scolari after the match.”It’s a message for the whole of Brazil. We have to get along and stick together to make sure things move forward.”
There were reportedly thousands of police officers outside the stadium prepared to make sure protesters didn’t halt the proceedings. And while a victory in a game of futebol on a field of grass won’t cure all that ails this giant nation pained by huge disparities between the haves and the never-had-a-thing’s, there is pride once more amongst the faithful in Brasil. You could see it; you could hear it and you could even feel it from thousands of miles away.
From the favelas in Rio to the high rises in Sao Paolo, its tangible, and it matters, particularly to a people that have offered the world so much beauty through this supposedly simple game by infusing it with their vibrant hearts and souls.
Sunday’s performance by A Selecao, The Selection of footballers chosen from 200 million citizens to represent Brazil, was about more than a trophy, it was about a people and a philosophy reclaiming their primacy.
They did so by using the only style they’ve ever known, o Jogo Bonito do Brasil — and they did so emphatically.