I’ve never been one for sports. Growing up, I was more of a drama kid. So when I found myself irrationally angry after Germany scored their fifth goal against Brazil in the semifinals Tuesday, I was surprised on multiple levels. I was in a bar filled with Brazilians who were crying, cursing, pacing — you name it — in disbelief. This isn't possible, I thought. This can’t be real. How is one of the best teams in the world losing by historic proportions on their own soil? And why do I care so much?
Football in Brazil is contagious. If you have a heart and soul, then it’s almost impossible to not get swept away in the emotional roller coaster that is Brazilian football. But unlike most foreigners currently in Brazil, I am not here for the World Cup. I'm in São Paulo converting my graduate research into a documentary. I knew I'd be in the country for the games, but I didn't expect to care about them much.
This isn’t just a World Cup. From the beginning, Brazilians have had complicated emotions about hosting it. Workers have died, Brazilians have been displaced, protesters have been arrested, and in the end for what? Third or fourth place after one of the most humiliating games in Brazilian football history? Is it worth it?
As it turned out, it took all but 90 minutes on the first day of the tournament for me to transform into one of Brazil’s biggest fans, with World Cup–inspired nails, wigs, and jerseys to prove it. It began with the opening game of the Brazil 2014 World Cup at my friend’s house in São Paulo. I arrived 15 minutes late and missed the infamous first own-goal of the game by Brazil’s Marcelo. My soon-to-be favorite player, Neymar Jr., redeemed the team by putting them ahead of their opponents with two consecutive goals. I quickly became enamored (read: obsessed) with the Brazilian team (ahem... Neymar Jr.) — so much in fact, that I even joined an all-female Brazilian football league in São Paulo in order to learn more about the game.
Carrying the heartbreak of losing Neymar Jr. to an injury while watching Germany score minute after minute, I could feel the actual pain of those around me. I couldn’t stand it, so I chugged the rest of my beer and walked out of the bar before the second half began.
After Brazil was finally put out of its misery, I heard a man sobbing outside my window and people chanting, "Call [President] Dilma and make her get a refund. [Curse word.] [Curse word.]"
I am not a Brazilian, so I can’t attest to what football means to this country — but I do know this is not just a game. This isn’t just a World Cup. From the beginning, Brazilians have had complicated emotions about hosting it. Workers have died, Brazilians have been displaced, protesters have been arrested, and in the end for what? Third or fourth place after one of the most humiliating games in Brazilian football history? Is it worth it?
"Football is like religion in Brazil," my Brazilian friend Flavia told me. "One who decides to live it has a duty to fight and honor his country to the end and never settle or stop believing that the game could be turned in the early stages. Okay, that was just a football game, but it is also a reflection of how we are deceived, manipulated, and how power remains in the hands of the elite [who decide how money gets spent in Brazil] ... it is time to reflect and try to change it in some way."
The morning following the game was eerily quiet for a cosmopolitan city like São Paulo. Many shops were closed due to a city holiday, but it was obvious mourning was also taking place. It didn’t help that it was a cold, dreary, rainy day. Walking through the streets with a friend, I overheard chatter filled with confusion and disappointment, though no one looked visibly distraught or upset.
"Our team wasn't prepared.... This is what happens when you rely on one person instead of 12," I overheard people say. Still, during the Argentina versus Netherlands game later that day, I saw arch rivals, Argentine and Brazilian fans, ribbing each other. Of course, the Brazilians had less to tease the Argentines about — but no one was acting like it was the end of the world.
"We saw our team humiliated in our home on international networks," my friend Sami said. "In 2018, we will raise the long awaited Cup and earn our sixth title proudly. Either way, I will do my part to hope and dream like all Brazilians with hearts do."
As with everything else in life, this will pass. Reflection will occur, lessons will be learned, and the game will continue. And in Brazil, one of the things that makes that life exciting, meaningful, and connected is football. Regardless of the team's collapse witnessed on Tuesday, many, including myself, will be watching and supporting the Brazilian team on Saturday. Fans may feel bitter and resentful, but that doesn't mean they will ever give up on their country or their team. My freshly painted green and yellow nails and I are still rooting for you, Brazil.
World Cup selfie of obsessed fan