We all love Brazilian football because at its best, Brazilian football is the paradigm of how we want football to be played. We want it musical, we want amazing skills but we want the kind of friendship and the teamwork also beautifully mixed and working together.
-Alex Bellos, author
Remember back when I did my blog on Russia’s Winter Olympic Legacy I mentioned my naive belief as a kid that if a country had a big sporting legacy, they deserved to host an Olympics? Anyways I would also have that naive belief for hosting the World Cup too. It’s not that embarrassing since every country that’s won the World Cup has hosted in the past. If I thought that now, it would be kind of embarrassing because of how expensive it is. Whatever the situation, you can’t deny Brazil’s legacy.
BEFORE THERE WAS A WORLD CUP
So the question is how did a British sport like football become almost religion-like in Brazil? Well there are some beliefs but no real conclusion on who first introduced it. Some believe it was introduced to Brazil by a Scottish expatriate by the name of Thomas Donohue. In fact the first ever football match contested in Brazil was played in a pitch marked out by Donohue near his workplace in Bangu back in April, 1894. Some believe it was introduced to Brazil by Charles William Miller, son of John Miller who worked on a railway construction project in Sao Paulo in the 1870’s. Charles not only learned football while studying in Southhampton but when he return home from his studies in 1892, he brought with him some football equipment and a rule book. He introduced it through the Sao Paulo Athletic Club. Miller was a great coach to the team and he was even able to get two English teams to play against the Athletic Club and other teams in Sao Paulo. You could say the rest is history.
Eventually Brazil would get its own national football federation–the Brazilian Football Federation–on June 8, 1914 and their first international match was a match between a team combined team from a club from Rio and a club from Sao Paulo against English club Exeter City shortly thereafter.
A SO-SO START
Those who are into World Cup trivia may know that Brazil has been in every World Cup since it started in 1930. It’s not to say that they began with a bang. In fact the BFF was not the best at organizing national teams for quite a while. In 1930, organizing national teams was a relatively new idea at the time so you can imagine getting a team for the very first World Cup would be through the same thought process today. In fact only thirteen countries, including Brazil, though the inaugural World Cup was worth competing in. Back at the first World Cup, there was only one group of four teams and three groups of three teams. Brazil faced Yugoslavia and Bolivia in their group. They lost to Yugoslavia 2-1 and won against Bolivia 4-0. Despite finishing second, they did not advance as only the #1 team from each group advanced and Yugoslavia finished #1. Their next World Cup, Italy in 1934, was also lackluster as the whole tournament was a last-team standing competition–no First Round group play at all–and Brazil lost its opening match: against Spain 3-1. That ended their World Cup run fast.
However things were really starting to look up for Brazil in France in 1938. Their team was much better and it featured the legendary Leonidas. As in 1934, it was a last-team-standing format from start to finish. Brazil won its opening match against Poland 6-5 with Leonidas scoring a hat-trick and won its quarterfinal against Czechoslovakia. Actually they needed a second quarterfinal to play as they tied the first 1-1. Brazil won the second 2-1. However they were stopped in the semifinals by eventual winner Italy 2-1. Brazil did win the third place match against Sweden 4-2 and Leonidas was the top scorer with 7 goals. Too bad the Golden Foot award wasn’t awarded back then.
Brazil hosted in 1950. I’ll actually save that competition for another blog as I will tell about the infamous Maracanazo and the crazy aftermath that happened since. Few players from 1950 returned in 1954. Brazil was ousted in the quarterfinals by Hungary 4-2.
THE GOLDEN ERA
The era from 1958 to 1970 has to be Brazil’s most treasured because that was when the Brazilian national team was at its best and enchated the world. It all started in 1958 when coach Vicente Feola coached the team and even gave them a list of forty things not to do including smoke in front of journalists. They even brought a psychiatrist to the team. Whatever the situation, Brazil was brilliant in group play with two wins and a draw, winning their quarterfinal against Wales 1-0, their semi against France 5-2 and then winning their final against hosts Sweden 5-2. The top goalscorer may have been Just Fontaine but it was the second-highest scorer–a 17 year-old Brazilian named Pele–that captured the imagination of the world. Even in the group stage, he dazzled crowds with his flare and his goal-scoring ability. Another key note is that Pele wore the number 10 at that World Cup it’s been since common trait that most national teams designate the number 10 to their best players. Pele however won the FIFA Silver Ball award for being the second-best overall player at the World Cup. The winner of the Golden Ball was another Brazilian, Didi, who actually scored a single goal but delivered the best midfield efforts of the tournament.
Pele’s fame grew as did his football playing prowess and the whole Brazilian team garnered fame with him. In Chile in 1962, Pele was back and expected to star again. He did score in the first game but was sidelined with an injury during the second game. That would cause him to miss the rest of the tournament. Nevertheless Brazil performed well as his replacement Amarildo scored three goals and two players, Garrincha and Vava, scored four goals each. Garrincha was considered to be the top player of the tournament. The team also did a noble thing after defeating hosts Chile in the semifinals. They carried the Chilean flag out on the field.
In England in 1966, it appeared success was starting to get to Brazil. They began well with a 2-0 win against Bulgaria that included a goal each by stars Pele and Garrincha but it was all downhill after that with 3-1 losses against Hungary and Portugal. That left Brazil 3rd in the group and out of the tournament: the second of five instances when the defending World Cup champion failed to advance past the Group Stage.
Then came Mexico in 1970. Mario Zagallo, who played for Brazil during its World Cup wins in 1958 and 1962, was assigned coach by the president of Brazil. The president also demanded that many players including the aging Pele be put on the team. Pele first seemed uncomfortable with his role but things changed once the contest started. Brazil won all their Group Stage matches, won their quarterfinal against Peru 4-2, their semifinal against Uruguay 3-1 and then their final against Italy 4-1. Jairzinho was the top goalscorer of the team with 7 goals but it was Pele who won the Golden Ball award for being the best overall player with a performance that included four goals. And to think Pele thought at the beginning he wasn’t good enough for the team. Pele also won the FIFA fair play trophy for not receiving a single yellow or red card. Pele also has the distinction of being the only player to play for three World Cup winning teams. Zagallo made history by becoming the first ever to win the World Cup both as a player and as a coach. Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer is the only other one to do so. On top of that Brazil was given the distinction of being allowed to keep the Jules Rimet trophy for winning the World Cup three times. The 1970 team for Brazil is still considered by many to be the best team ever in World Cup history. The odd irony is that it was only a matter of months until the Jules Rimet trophy was stolen. It was never found.
THE DRY SPELL
After 1970, Pele was no longer part of Brazil’s national team and there was a brand new World Cup trophy that made its debut in 1974 and is the current trophy today. It seems like those marked the end of Brazil’s magic at the time because Brazil would struggle to regain its winning sense. 1974 and 1978 World Cups consisted of not only group play for the opening round but also for a second round for the eight that qualified. The top teams at the end of the second round of Group Play played in the final for the Cup, the second-place teams played for third place and the other four teams headed straight home. In both cases, Brazil came second. Brazil again found itself out of the competition because of second round group play in Spain in 1982. In 1986 started the current format of Group Play and the last-team-standing format that started with a Round of 16. Whatever the situation, Brazil was brilliant in Group Play wining all their games and even winning their Round of 16 game against Poland but drew 1-1 to France in the quarterfinals and then lost the penalty kicks round. 1990 added further insult as Brazil again won all three of their group play games but fell to Argentina 1-0 in the Round of 16.
It was a question to many of why. Was it the format of play? Was it the change of system where Brazilian players were now mostly playing in Europe instead of playing with Brazilian clubs as was the case in Pele’s day? It’s still a wonder.
CALL IT A COMEBACK
These past twenty years have actually seen a resurgence of Brazil’s greatness and even write a new legacy for them. It first started at the 1994 World Cup. This time they came packed with stars like Romario, Bebeto, Taffarel, Dunga and Jorginho. The group were very good, if unspectacular, being very solid in the rounds leading up to the final. The final was a classic rematch against Italy. The game was an unspectacular 0-0 which led to a penalty kicks contest. Brazil won 4-3 and became the first country to win the World Cup four times.
1998 saw the emergence of another young Brazilian with the potential to become a great, Ronaldo. He and the Brazilian team were very good leading up to the final but it was the home country French team that really caught the world’s attention at that World Cup. France has commonly been known as Brazil’s ‘achilles heel’ and they gave Brazil their loss 3-0. Under the guidance of coach Luis Felipe Scolari, Brazil came back in 2002 with the help of the three R’s–Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho– and won the World Cup without a loss. Ronaldo won the Golden Boot award for his scoring of eight goals, the most goals scored in a single World Cup since 1970.
Brazil has continued to maintain a record of consistency since the 2002 World Cup and has continued to produce new stars. Even manager Carlos Alberto Ferreira formed a playing system known as the ‘magic square’ that proved very successful in competitions leading up to the Cup. The ‘square’ appeared to work well in the first rounds of the 2006 World Cup despite the underperforming of star Ronaldinho at the time but they fell in the quarterfinals to their traditional top rival France 1-0. To the surprise of most, Brazil was out in the quarterfinals. Brazil continued to be favored leading up to the 2010 World Cup and even won their ‘group of death’ albeit unspectacularly but fell again in the quarterfinals. This time to the Netherlands 2-1. Further disappointment came at the 2011 Copa America when Brazil lost in the quarterfinals but a major upper came when they won the Confederations Cup against World Cup winners Spain 3-0. Here at this World Cup, Brazil tried to attempt the one football feat they don’t own: winning the World Cup on home soil. They brought Luis Felipe Scolari back to help them win it. They’re also relying heavily on the young great Neymar who has already scored two goals in World Cup play. The remaining three weeks will decide.
Brazil has had a football legacy and it has had its downsides too. You can understand why a country this passionate about football believes that a win of the World Cup is the only acceptable result. You can understand the pressure that the current Brazilian faces leading into this World Cup. You can also understand why a country like Brazil has won more World Cups than any other country and continued to churn out legend after legend. It’s no wonder no country has delivered more football magic than Brazil.
WIKIPEDIA: Brazil National Football Team. Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazil_national_football_team>
WIKIPEDIA: Football In Brazil. Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Football_in_Brazil>
WIKIPEDIA: Brazil at the FIFA World Cup. Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazil_at_the_FIFA_World_Cup>
Those of you that have known my writing over the years have known that when I do soccer blogging of major events, I do a rundown of the teams that will be competing. Some of you may have guessed I’d be doing it again for the World Cup, and you are right. However I’m doing a separate blog for each of the eight Group Stage groups. So much to preview, so little space. With this being my first blog of the upcoming World Cup, then it’s no question the first blog will be done on Group A. For the record, my summary of the teams will be done in their drawn World Cup order rather than their FIFA ranking of May 2014. FIFA ranking of that month will appear in brackets.
-Brazil (4)-No other country has as much of a football legacy as Brazil. Brazil is the only country that can boast competing at all nineteen past World Cups and the only country to have won the World Cup five. The World Cup arena has been an excellent showcase of Brazilian football at its best and it has inspired the world around. However we’ve also seen Brazil choke at times, especially in recent competitions. Just ask France. They’re known as Brazil’s ‘achilles heel’ and have handed Brazil some surprising defeats including the 1998 world Cup final and the 2006 World Cup quarterfinal. In both cases, Brazil was the defending World Cup holder. Brazil’s recent chokes were more humbling as they choked to the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup quarterfinal and at the 2011 Copa America, they lost their quarterfinal in what was Brazil’s worst-ever Copa America performance.
Brazil can’t take any chances at this World Cup more than any World Cup. They’re the host country and all the world expects them to win. They especially want to rid their compatriots of the 1950 ‘Maracanazo,’ which I will talk about in another blog. Yes, Brazil may have won the World Cup more than any other country but of the eight countries that have won the World Cup, Brazil and Spain are the only ones to fail to do so as host country. Brazil hopes to end this ignominy this time around. After their Copa America debacle, they sacked their coach in favor of Luiz Felipe Scolari who helped coach Brazil to its last World Cup in 2002. The return to Scolari has paid off as Brazil won last year’s Confederation Cup defeating reigning World Cup holders Spain 3-0. Since the return of Scolari, Brazil’s overall record has been excellent losing only twice: to England and Switzerland. No doubt they’ll face huge pressure but the Confederations Cup proved that Brazil is back in action and ready to deliver.
-Croatia (20)- If you were to do a pound-for-pound rational of football teams, Croatia should rank amongst the top. Croatia is one of only two countries in FIFA’s current Top 20 with a population of less than 5 million . Uruguay being the only other country. Ever since their independence in 1991, Croatia has proved itself a formidable force in football, especially at the 1998 World Cup where they finished third. However that was the last World Cup where they even advanced past the Group Stage. 2002 and 2006 appearances didn’t pan out and a failure to qualify in 2010 almost made the Vatreni’s glory a thing of the past. However Croatia is looking to mount a comeback. In 2012, they signed on a new president in Davor Suker, himself a former great as the top goalscorer at the 1998 World Cup. The role of manager was replaced by former team captain Niko Kovac. The team successfully qualified for the World Cup. They also have a good mix of talent from veterans like Darijo Srna and Luka Modric and fresh young talents like Dejan Lovren and Mateo Kovacic. Croatia is one country that’s very capable of causing a surprise.
-Mexico (19)- Mexico is without a doubt the best team in the CONCACAF as far as legacy goes. No other North American team has qualified for the World Cup as often. However its greatness has appeared to have alluded them in the past couple of years. They failed to advance past the Group Stage of last year’s Confederations Cup, they lost to Panama in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup and almost missed qualifying for the World Cup in a qualifier against Costa Rica where they trailed 1-0 after 80 minutes. Two goals in the last 10 minutes kept them alive where they’d go on to beat New Zealand for the wildcard berth. Mexico has made efforts to make their near-loss to Costa Rica a thing of the past. They have not lost a game since but they have come across some tight ties like a scoreless draw against Nigeria and even a 2-2 tie against the US last month. Mexico hopes to be ready for Brazil. Miguel Herrera is one tough coach who favors home grown talent over talent from European leagues. That could be the factor that could either spell success or failure. Only the World Cup stage will decide that.
-Cameroon (50)- Older people may remember Cameroon as the team that came from nowhere in 1990 to win 1-0 against defending champions Argentina. Cameroon charmed the world that year by reaching the quarterfinals and becoming the first African team to do so. However their glory appears to be a thing of the past. Cameroon has not advanced past the Group Stage since. This time around doesn’t show too much promise. They do have a German coach, Volker Finke, and have good talent in Samuel Eto’o and Alex Song but they do face a heavy battle in group play. Already this year, they’ve had mixed results with a 5-1 loss to Portugal and a 2-0 win against Macedonia. Nevertheless it’s too soon to judge. I’ve seen teams where nothing was expected of them and they’d advance far.
This is a new feature. This is where I get to focus on the various stadia that are hosting the World Cup. I figure the arenas are worth talking about. Brazil has twelve stadia that will facilitate for the World Cup: seven just opened within the past year. The crazy thing is how the Group Stage play is organized. Usually in most cases at a World Cup, the country would have organized certain Group Stage groups playing at a set stage of stadiums. In Brazil’s case, a country with twelve stadiums may have three stadiums in cities close to each other to host the Group Stage games of two groups. Division that simple. Brazil has done it weird. All twelve of the stadiums will hold four Group Stage matches but they will be matches for four different groups. Additionally, all six of the Group Stage games for each individual group will be played in six different stadiums, and not all will be that close by. That will mean a lot of traveling around for the 32 teams, especially in a country of over 3 million square miles.
It’s confusing but hopefully it won’t interfere with the play as badly as the vuvuzelas did at the last World Cup. As for stadiums, Brazil has twelve good stadiums. Five are old and traditional but renovated in time. Seven are new built especially for the sake of hosting the World Cup. Here I’ll give you my first taste of my Stadium Spotlight. Note that each stadium I show in my Stadium Spotlight feature will be a stadium that will contest Group Stage matches for each respective group. These two I will focus on will host Group Stage matches in Group A. So without further ado, here are the two stadiums in focus:
Year Opened: 2014
World Cup Capacity: 42,086
World Cup Groups Hosting: A, C, D, G
One of seven new stadiums built especially for this World Cup, the most unique thing of the stadium is definitely the roof. While Brazil had made headlines with difficulties of building and completing stadiums in time for the World Cup, this stadium however earned praises from FIFA not just for the stadium itself but for development of areas surrounding the stadium which I will talk about later. This stadium finished in good time and officially opened this January. After the World Cup, the stadium capacity is to be extended to 45,000 seats and to be the stage of home games for both the America Futebol Clube and ABC Futebol Clube. The area surrounding the stadium has planned a shopping centre, commercial buildings, hotels of international standard and an artificial lake.
Year Opened: 2014
World Cup Capacity: 42,374
World Cup Groups Hosting: A, D, E, G
There was some criticism from England’s manager Roy Hodgson about Manaus hosting World Cup matches. He should watch his tongue as England will be playing the very first World Cup match of his group there, against Italy. This was one new stadium that actually was under question whether it would be ready for the World Cup. The stadium has been completed and was officially opened in March. The stadium has a full capacity of 46,000 and is to be the host stadium of Nacional FC after the World Cup, replacing the now-demolished Vivaldao Stadium.
And there you go. My first preview of the World Cup teams and stadiums. As for predictions, I’ll just settle for predicting the two countries that will advance past the Group Stage right now, and I predict it will be Brazil and Croatia.
Seven more groups and ten more stadiums to review before World Cup 2014 starts. Stay tuned for more.