Wednesday, June 07, 2006

World Cup Spotlight: Brazil

Adriano. Ronaldo. Kaka. Ronaldinho. Emerson. Ze Roberto. Cafu. Lucio. Juan. Roberto Carlos. Dida. Eleven men that equal the elementary particles for World Cup success.

Brazil are the reigning kings of the beautiful game and they've won the cup five times. They're ranked number one on the all-time World Cup table. For millions of fans worldwide, the South Americans represent the Platonic ideal of how futebol should be played, performed, and offered up to the gods of the pitch. Although bound to their divine past, when players such as Garrincha and a young Pele reconfigured the game and forged history, the 2006 national team has likewise reestablished the possibilities of futebol by delivering to the world arguably the most formidable Brazilian squad ever.

There's no denying that the Brazilians are great. But are they unbeatable? And although I realize it's difficult to find anything missing or wrong with them, the Brazilians are hardly untouchable. The lead up to the tournament has found a few of their players--Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Adriano, Dida--having sluggish seasons with their respective clubs, and in the case of Cafu, spending most of the year on the sidelines injured.

And then there's the whole psychological weight of Ronaldinho and the boys being labeled favorites for the tournament. As Alex Bellos, author of the book Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life, wrote in the May 2006 issue of Four Four Two, the Brazilians have a number of other problems and mental hurdles to conquer besides how to deal with Ronaldo's penchant for indulgence, most notably that the national team has never won when they've been branded favorites, and besides winning against host nation Sweden in 1958, Brazil has never won a World Cup title on European soil, let alone successfully defended one.

In the end, though, I've no doubt that the Samba Boys will reach the final. But will the importance of living up to their destiny be too much for them in the end? Probably not. And who cares, I guess, just as long as they play with the joy that we've come to expect from them.

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