GAZETINHA 4 – Brazilian Championship Matchday 2

This week’s Gazetinha sees Euan Marshall (@euanmarshall) round up the second round of the Brazilian championship, as well as profiling Europe-bound Gabriel Barbosa (or Gabigol, if you can say that with a straight face) and heaping more praise on Santa Cruz.

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Gazeta Brasil

Good evening, dear readers. As you may or may not have noticed, I have begun a new video project with the help of Daniel Hunt of Fábrica Media and will start posting our latest videos here on ILFM for all you fine folk to enjoy.

The project is called Gazeta Brasil (which I’m not afraid to admit is a cheap play on Gazzetta Football Italia) and it involves yours truly speaking into a camera each week about all the latest Brazilian football business. We try to film at various interesting spots around São Paulo, like the excellent Mirante 9 de Julho, the Goethe-Institut (with their outstanding currywurst…) and the famous Paribar, and we’ve already got around twelve superb locations lined up for future episodes.

Check out episodes one, two and three and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

However, Daniel and I both have jobs and other commitments, so producing something that requires such preparation and production every single week was always unrealistic. That’s why I created Gazetinha, a concurrent series of simple, up-to-date videos to give you all your weekly fix of Brazilian football. Check out this week’s episode below:

Neither of us receive any sponsorship for these videos, so the best way to help is spreading the word and getting our content out there. Subscribe to our channel. Get your friends to subscribe. Get your parents to subscribe. Create an army of email aliases and get them to subscribe too.

Até mais.

Robinho’s return

After fulfilling his lifelong dream of sitting on the bench for a Chinese first division club, Robinho is back in Brazil. Though this comes as no shock, the fact he will play for Atlético Mineiro (and not Santos) has raised a few eyebrows.

Robinho’s connection with Santos and their fans is quite spectacular. Having grown up in the nearby town of São Vicente, Robinho joined Santos when he was 12 years old. In 2002, his first season of professional football, he helped take Santos to the Brazilian title, an astonishing achievement considering the club had not won a trophy since 1984 and that their two key players (Robinho and Diego) were teenagers.

On loan from Manchester City, he returned to Santos in 2010 and led the club to two titles: the São Paulo state championship and the Copa do Brasil. Besides the silverware, Robinho’s second spell at Santos was marked by the arrival of a new generation of exciting young talent at the club. Under Robinho’s wing, Neymar and Paulo Henrique Ganso began to flourish. The following year, with Robinho back in Europe with Milan, Neymar and Ganso took Santos to the Copa Libertadores title.

In 2014, he was back home once more. At 30 years old, Brazilian football fans saw Robinho’s transition from lightning-fast forward to intelligent playmaker. Despite not having the same physical condition as his younger days, Robinho’s vision and reading of the game allowed him to stand out at domestic level. While the club hemorrhaged money and struggled to find any sustainable source of income, Robinho’s exploits on the pitch helped keep the wolves at bay.

Today, with more exciting talents coming through the ranks at Santos, particularly 19 year old forward Gabriel “Gabigol” Barbosa, was Robinho not tempted to return for a fourth time? One last hurrah? I’d imagine so, but I’m glad he turned them down.

Santos no longer represents a challenge for Robinho, it is his home and the fans adore him unconditionally. Furthermore, during his last stay at Santos he was owed thousands in unpaid wages. Knowing the club was going through hard times and aware of his own financial security, he chose to stay silent while his team-mates took Santos to court. This was a sacrifice he made as a senior player, but returning to the club after what happened would be very strange indeed.

At this stage, it is impossible to know whether Robinho will be a success at Atlético. He has joined a much bigger and more demanding club where he will need to prove his worth.

In 2012, Ronaldinho Gaúcho was in a similar position having joined Atlético. The following year he led the club to their first ever Copa Libertadores triumph, playing his best football since leaving Barcelona.

Juca Kfouri and the CPIs

Yesterday I had the pleasure of interviewing Juca Kfouri, a living legend of Brazilian journalism. As editor of the iconic weekly (now monthly) sports magazine Placar and later of Playboy, Juca worked tirelessly throughout the 1980s and 1990s to investigate and expose corruption in Brazilian sport.

Being an investigative sports journalist in Brazil was a thankless task back then. Brazilian society treated the idea of corruption in sport as a wacky conspiracy theory, most likely due to decades of the public being sheltered from government corruption under the military dictatorship (1964-1985) and its tight grip on information.

This changed in 2001 when Congress opened two separate parliamentary inquiries (CPIs) into corruption in football. The first, in the lower house, aimed at the sponsorship contract between Nike and the Brazilian FA (CBF), leaked to the press in 1999 and suspected of “violating Brazilian sovereignty”. At the same time, another CPI was opened in the Senate, going after club presidents and the CBF itself.

Due to pressure from the so-called “football caucus”, the CPI in the lower house was not approved. Yet the Senate CPI survived and made a host of indictments of 17 important figures in the national game, including then CBF president Ricardo Teixeira, current and ex-presidents of Vasco da Gama, Flamengo, Santos and even national team coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo. None of these accusations were taken any further though, due to what Juca calls the “slow, morose” Brazilian judiciary. The national team’s success in the 2002 World Cup also served to deflect bad press away from the CBF. Continue reading Juca Kfouri and the CPIs

A year to forget

A century after the club’s foundation by a group of Italian immigrants in São Paulo, 2014 was meant to be a year of celebration for Palmeiras. However, thanks to a string of woeful executive decisions, their centennial turned out to be their annus horribilis, with Verdão fans left desperate to ring in the New Year as soon as possible.

With their return to Brazil’s first division, the impending inauguration of their gorgeous new stadium Allianz Parque and the small matter of the club’s centenary celebrations, Palmeiras supporters demanded the board spare no expense and think big for the 2014 season. Initially, it seemed those in charge would oblige. Prestigious managerial candidates were interviewed and potential multi-million signings were floated, but club president Paulo Nobre’s obsession for austerity spoke louder.

The quality reinforcements did not come, Palmeiras instead brought in aging world champion centre-back Lúcio on a free transfer (out of action for six months after being dropped by rivals São Paulo) and loaned Uruguayan defender Mauricio Victorino (on the sidelines for over a year with a heel injury) and midfielder Bruno César, who arrived from Saudi Arabia comically overweight. Jobbing head coach Gilson Kleina, who led the team to the second division title in 2013, was kept on, although it was made abundantly clear he was not their first choice and would walk the plank should results falter.

The nightmare began with the São Paulo state championship: Palmeiras progressed from the first stage without any major surprises, but in their quarter-final match against minnows Ituano, they were beaten 1-0 and eliminated in front of their own fans. Kleina kept his job, but would receive his inevitable marching orders two months later, after only three matches of the Brazilian championship campaign.

Palmeiras-drama-na-Allianz-Parque-20141207-0007-size-598

As if that was not sufficiently suicidal, Paulo Nobre then pulled off his most ambitious (and under the circumstances, short-sighted) move of a disastrous year and brought in Argentinian coach Ricardo Gareca to replace Kleina. Intelligent and forward-thinking, Gareca came highly recommended after some great years in his homeland with Vélez Sarsfield, but when thrown into the hectic environment that is the Palmeiras training ground, with the league season already well underway, he was destined to fail.

Gareca’s Palmeiras showed some promising signs, their midfield looked more organised than it had been in a long time, but a leaky defence, lack of mental toughness and a complete inability to hold onto results saw them plummet to the lower half of the table. There was also reports that some members of the squad were less than happy about playing under an Argentinian manager.

Foreign coaches are almost unheard of in Brazilian football and Ricardo Gareca’s scandalously brief stint in São Paulo will do nothing to help that. Granted, the universal preference for home-grown coaches in Brazil is not a matter of prejudice or intolerance, there are practical motives behind it. In general, Brazilian players respond best to coaches who are able to relate to and mentor them. The harsh reality is that many footballers in Brazil come from poorer backgrounds and may have had to leave their family at an early age. In these cases, the football coach fills the role of a father figure, something which cannot be achieved across a language barrier.

The Argentinian was given a grand total of nine league matches over the space of six weeks before getting the sack, this coming after the club had spent an approximated R$ 30 million (around £7 million) to bring in four Argentinian players, Fernando Tóbio, Pablo Mouche, Agustín Allione and Jonathan Cristaldo on Gareca’s request.

Trying to salvage something from an already disappointing centenary, Paulo Nobre rushed to appoint Gareca’s replacement, announcing Dorival Júnior, the bespectacled former Palmeiras midfielder fresh from a string of managerial failures at Flamengo, Vasco and Fluminense, as the man tasked with keeping the Verdão in the first division.

Thanks to some naïve tactical choices, bad luck with injuries, his reluctance to play his four unhappy Argentinians and a crippling mental inferiority that spread throughout the entire squad, Dorival very nearly commanded Palmeiras to their third relegation in the 21st century.

After some embarrassing results (a 6-0 defeat to Goiás, a 2-0 defeat at home to Atlético Mineiro’s B team and losing 2-0 to Sport Recife in the inaugural game at the stunning Allianz Parque), Palmeiras went into the last match of the season needing (at the very least) a point at home against Atlético Paranaense to avoid the drop. Their opponents had no stake in the result and fielded a reserve side, but Palmeiras coughed and spluttered to a 1-1 draw with the help of a dubious first-half penalty kick. The Verdão’s salvation came when news filtered through that Santos (traditionally one of Palmeiras’ rivals) had scored a last-minute winner to relegate north-eastern club Vitória. The club ended the division in 16th place with 20 losses and 40 points. Since the Brazilian championship made the switch to the 38-game season, no club had ever avoided relegation with 40 points.

As it was when they won the second division last year, when their place in the first division was confirmed for 2015, there was no celebration from Palmeiras fans, with the team booed off the field accompanied by chants of “time sem vergonha!”, literally “shameless team”.

Palmeiras’ woeful performance in 2014, amid centennial celebrations, is another dent in the reputation of one of Brazil’s proudest football clubs. In the words of Brazilian journalist Mauricio Savarese, despite remaining in the first division, Palmeiras were relegated in 2014.

Next year could well be the most crucial in Palmeiras’ 100-year history. Another relegation fight (or worse, another relegation) could see them reduced to yo-yo club status, and at a time when the country’s better-run big clubs (Cruzeiro, Corinthians, Atlético Mineiro, São Paulo) are threatening to distance themselves from the rest in a way Brazilian football has never seen before, such a step down could create an insurmountable gap between Palmeiras and Brazil’s elite.

Day four: keeping up appearances…

Watching four games of football back-to-back in one day is no mean feat, especially when scheduled around other commitments and deadlines, so forgive me if today’s diary is late and more abrupt than usual.

It says something about the standard of this year’s World Cup when a 3-0 win can be considered among the least entertaining matches of these three days of play. Colombia flattened Greece, showing they are not reliant on the presence of Monaco striker Radamel Falcao and putting them in with a good chance of qualifying from Group C.

Bravely, Colombia’s coach José Pékerman decided against fielding a like-for-like Falcao replacement in attack, instead going with a more mobile front two of Victor Ibarbo and Teo Gutiérrez. This is the potential benefit of Falcao’s injury: Pékerman’s sides struggled to find a good balance between defence and attack when playing the big No 9, as for him to show his incredible talents he needs plenty of support. Without Falcao, Colombia can reinforce their midfield and gain more control over games, as we saw against Greece. Pékerman would be unable to have the strength of Aguilar and Sánchez, the industry of Ibarbo and Cuadrado, the creativity of James Rodríguez and the intelligence of Gutiérrez if he was forced to play with a static (although incredibly dangerous) centre-forward.

Colombia’s opening goal was a wonderful moment. With the Mineirão stadium decked out in yellow and blue, wing-back Pablo Armero led the rest of the squad into one of his famous dancing celebrations after his scuffed shot crept past Karnezis in the Greek goal. What has been evident throughout the World Cup qualifiers is that this Colombia team are such a tight-knit group, full of joy and excitement. The team is quite varied in terms of ages, but this is the first World Cup for everyone involved (except 42-year-old substitute goalkeeper Mondragon, who played in 1998, Colombia’s last tournament appearance) and they are all enjoying this wondrous moment together.

England v Italy was perhaps my favourite match of the tournament so far (well, it would be, wouldn’t it?): two former world champions facing off in the heart of the Amazon. England were surprisingly entertaining to watch, vibrant and daring going forward. They still have some way to go however, I cannot help but think they lack creativity, the team would be improved hugely with the inclusion of an attacking midfielder with vision and technique.

Their big problem last night, however, was defending their left side. Baines does not seem to offer much in the way of defending, while Rooney gave him no cover from midfield. No wonder Italy focused so heavily on attacking that side with Candreva and Darmian.

Pirlo had a predictably excellent match, with his “assist” for Marchisio’s goal sure to go down in history. However, Raheem Sterling’s slanted, defence-splitting pass to Rooney in the buildup to England’s goal was just as impressive and bears repeating.

In the evening game, Japan took the lead against Ivory Coast but never looked in control. Zaccheroni’s side constantly invited pressure from the Ivorians, who attacked in numbers, with their full-backs overlapping constantly. The African side deservedly turned the game around, albeit in shocking circumstances, with two goals from crosses in the space of two minutes.

On to Sunday, France were impressive in their win over a poor Honduras side who spent over half the match with ten men. Despite taking longer than expected to break the deadlock, France did not panic, stuck to their gameplan and Wilson Palacios’ idiotic foul on Paul Pogba in the penalty area gave them the break they needed.

I’m about to sit down to watch Lionel Messi play at the Maracanã, and I cannot tell you how delighted that makes me feel.

Day three: Chocolate orange

The Netherlands plays an important part in the history of the north-east of Brazil. During the 17th century, the modern-day states of Pernambuco, Sergipe, Rio Grande do Norte and Alagoas were all under Dutch rule, as well as parts of Ceará, Maranhão and Piauí. The area was known as New Holland, and was an official Dutch territory for around 20 years, with its capital city in Recife, then known as Mauritsstad.

They struggled to expand their sovereignty further south into Bahia, a traditional Portuguese stronghold. They managed to invade and conquer the city of Salvador in 1624, but it was recaptured less than a year later by the Spanish empire, led by King Felipe IV and his Spanish and Portuguese forces.

Now, this is the part where I link the historic event to the game of football that happened yesterday. I’m saving my energy for today’s four-game marathon, so if you could fill in the blanks yourselves, that would be much appreciated.

Many have jumped to the conclusion that Holland have knocked off Spain’s crown, and that the era of tiki-taka domination is at an end. They may be correct: I was quick to brush off the “end of an era” discourse after Brazil battered the world champions in the final of last year’s Confederations Cup, but now the sample size has doubled.

The result was momentous, and certainly does justice to Holland’s complete dominance in the second half, but the first half was controlled by Spain. They kept possession well, grinding down their opponents before taking the lead and threatening to score more. If David Silva had scored his one-on-one chance against Cillessen, Spain would have taken a 2-0 lead into the interval, closed the game out in the second half and we would be talking about business as usual. The idea that “tiki-taka is finished” is silly. The style and ethos of both teams were not the deciding factors in yesterday’s game.

Spain did not approach the game correctly, drawing attention to their own weaknesses in defence, lacking a deep option in attack to stretch play and not studying their opposition well enough. Anyone who saw Holland’s pre-tournament friendlies could tell you that Van Gaal’s team like to play long, sweeping passes behind the defence to feed their forwards. Van Persie’s goal against Ecuador was an excellent example.

Holland, on the other hand, were incredibly well prepared for the match and from Robin Van Persie’s post-match comments, it appears Van Gaal predicted the outcome of the match with startling accuracy.

In Brazil, a comprehensive victory such as this (usually one with five goals scored by the winning team) is called a chocolate. Yesterday’s result, chocolate com laranja.

In the late game, Chile were everything we expected them to be. Vibrant going forward, vulnerable in defence. They made hard work of an Australia side who were, although better than I had expected, fairly unimpressive. My impression was that the Cuiabá heat played a part (it remained above 30C throughout the match, at 7-9pm local time), with some of Chile’s midfield not pressing and overlapping with the same intensity as they usually do.

They cannot afford to do that in their remaining group games, especially not against Van Persie and Robben. Playing such a high defensive line requires constant pressing of the ball, so as not to give time for the opponent to exploit the space behind the defence. If Chile play as they did last night, Spain and Holland should win comfortably.

To finish, Diego Costa. The debate about naturalisation has been reopened today since Costa made the Spain starting XI and was roundly booed by thousands in the Arena Fonte Nova. The question of “should he have been booed?” is a silly one. I wouldn’t jeer him myself, but it is perfectly understandable why some Brazilian fans would, as it is perfectly understandable (in my opinion) why Diego Costa preferred to represent Spain instead of his country of birth.

The serious issue, almost completely ignored, were the chants directed at him. “Diego, viado” – I hear it on the stands every week in Brazil, directed at any opposing player worthy of ire. The word viado is not, as The Guardian published in Sid Lowe’s article on Costa, “slang for gay”. Viado is a very strong homophobic slur; if I had to find an equivalent in English, my opinion is that it is closest to the word “faggot”. Imagine thousands of English fans chanting similar at Costa on his debut at Chelsea and you have a hate crime on your hands. It is part of a huge homophobia problem in Brazil, one which needs to be addressed and understood.

Day one: World Cup in Zona Leste

My World Cup began this morning at 6 o’clock sharp, with the familiar whine of a vuvuzela being blown outside of my front door. This proved not to be a one-off, with the brothers and distant cousins of the much detested South African horn following suit soon after, accompanied by fireworks, whistles, car horns and anything else the local people could think of. Vehicular alarms were even being set off on purpose, just to raise the decibels. This description is unlikely to match the ones being relayed by journalists and fans staying in São Paulo, who talked of a general feeling of apathy among the population and, above all, quiet.

The difference is that I, unlike almost all foreigners in Greater São Paulo, live on the city’s almost exclusively working-class east zone – Zona Leste in Portuguese. Ignored by the media, Zona Leste (or Zona Lost as it is often cruelly referred to) is dismissed by many paulistanos, including São Paulo FC’s president Carlos Miguel Aidar, as being “another world”, not just because of the time it takes to get there, but because of the stark differences between the chic bars and restaurants of Jardins and the simple bakeries and drinking holes of Sapopemba. Well, sorry São Paulo, but today Zona Leste is hosting the World Cup.

A recent poll says rich Brazilians are far more likely to be opposed to the World Cup than the rest of the class spectrum, with many anti-World Cup protests being orchestrated by the middle class. Where I live, there is a lot of disagreement with Brazil’s problems with education, housing and health, but there are also non-stop fireworks. Indeed, Arena Corinthians, the stage for the opening match between Brazil and Croatia, is situated in the neighbourhood of Itaquera, slap bang in the middle of Zona Leste.

Itaquera is not the most attractive part of São Paulo by any means. It is a cramped space with winding, congested streets, rubbish littered on pavements and the odd open sewer or two. They have serious housing issues, and labour in the city is so centralised that the majority of Itaquera’s inhabitants have to commute for up to two hours to arrive at their place of work, the opposite of how the quality of life-commute dynamic works in the UK. Unlike the city centre, here you will find widespread optimism about the coming tournament and plenty of national pride.

The tragedy is that despite their general excitement about the tournament, the people of Itaquera, and Zona Leste as a whole, are being actively kept out of the party. On Tuesday, I visited the Copa do Povo (People’s Cup), a 4,800-strong camp of homeless workers, situated only 3km from Arena Corinthians. Led by the Landless Workers’ Movement (MTST), the Copa do Povo is an invasion of unused land, where the squatters have built a fascinating maze of shelters built out of branches and black bin bags. For its appearance, the camp is incredibly organised. The large population is split into eight groups, each with their own kitchen and bathroom and coordination system. Every shelter is numbered, with the MTST organisers knowing exactly who is living where.

After a month of demonstrations and negotiations with the federal government, the MTST have been granted their wish and the owners of the land (a construction company who had not been paying sufficient tax on it) will now be obliged to build houses there for low-income families.

Speaking to some of the families living there, I got the impression that their biggest gripe about the World Cup was Fifa’s plans to close the roads around the stadium on match days, meaning the local people could not get near the stadium, neither could they go about their everyday business. While others have the day off today, many of the workers in Copa do Povo went to their jobs this morning and had their usual public transport routes changed dramatically, with buses cancelled and the subway unreachable. A two-hour commute turned into a three-hour commute.

Even if these workers do get the half day that most businesses are promising, they will not be able to return to the camp and watch the match. They are unable to get any electricity inside the camp, with no power companies willing to help them. From the top of the Copa do Povo camp, you can see the Arena Corinthians nestled nearby. However, for these workers, it could not be farther away. This afternoon, instead of watching Brazil play Croatia, the MTST have organised their own football tournament, to take place at the Copa do Povo, between teams of landless workers.

The problems in Itaquera did not begin when Brazil was chosen to host the World Cup. Had this tournament been in the UK or the USA, the homeless workers in Copa do Povo would still struggle to find a television to watch the opening game. These are a result of Brazilian society as a whole, the centralisation of labour in big cities and the inequality and class hatred that is seen here every day.

I was on the subway yesterday, going from Zona Leste in the direction of the city centre. I had got on at the same station as three teenage girls, all dark-skinned, all coming from a nearby poor neighbourhood. As we went on our way, the train announcements played in Portuguese and English, a novelty for the World Cup. The girls found the English voice funny (which it most certainly was), and while giggling they tried to recreate the lines in their best received pronunciation. “Nextchie staayshon … ” I found it quite funny and charming, but the woman sitting next to me did not agree. Shaking her head, clutching her Louis Vuitton bag close to her chest, she muttered: “Que povinho mal-educado”.

Portuguese uses the diminutive form, -inho and -inha, for many reasons. Sometimes it is to represent size, often it is to show affection, however, it can also be used to show disdain and disgust, as was this example. Translated literally, what this woman said was “what uneducated little people”. “Little people”, not because of their height, their age and certainly not because the woman found them cute and worthy of affection.

Povinho is a slur I hear used every day in São Paulo and it perfectly represents the class hatred evident in this city and makes me sick to my stomach. It is this “povinho” that is celebrating on the streets before a ball has even been kicked, honking their car horns and waving Brazilian flags despite the fact the middle class constantly tries to ignore them. They cannot be ignored any more, as the World Cup has not arrived in São Paulo, it has arrived in Zona Leste and the rest of the city will just have to deal with it.

A to Zico: An alphabet of Brazilian football – Available now

I can proudly say that the ebook written by Mauricio Savarese and myself, A to Zico: An alphabet of Brazilian football, is now available on the Kindle store. The book is a primer on Brazilian football and culture, coming just in time for the 2014 World Cup, choosing one of the myriad subjects and themes for each letter of the alphabet. We cover such topics as the history of the Brazilian national team and their influence on the rest of the world of football, the people who made Pelé the legend he is today, the legacy of the Maracanazo (Brazil’s World Cup defeat in 1950) and how the military dictatorship exploited football for their own gains.

It is the culmination of months of research, hard work and sleepless nights. Special thanks go to my dad, Harry Marshall, for providing us with the excellent illustrations which appear throughout the book. For now, it will only be available in English and in ebook format, but any interested publishers should get in touch with Mauricio and myself through our respective blogs.

The following excerpt comes from chapter M… is for Maracanazo, and goes into detail about the infamous World Cup final of 1950 — which Brazil lost in front of their own fans — and its deep influence on Brazil’s self image. For the rest of this chapter and much, much more, get your copy of A to Zico: An alphabet of Brazilian football from Amazon today. If you like it, leave a review!

M1 M3 M2

The Museum of Football is a mandatory stop for anyone visiting São Paulo. Housed inside the charming Pacaembu stadium, it hosts a fascinating collection of photographs, artefacts and memorabilia from Brazil’s football history, including an impressive permanent exhibition that chronicles every edition of the World Cup to date. However, before reaching the more colourful and exciting parts of the museum, there is one room through which every visitor must pass.

It is a small, dark space, empty apart from a projection screen on one wall. On a loop, it plays black-and-white footage of Brazil v Uruguay – the decisive match of the 1950 World Cup. Brazil’s opening goal. Uruguay’s equaliser. Alcides Ghiggia’s winner. Silence in the Maracanã. Brazil 1-2 Uruguay. The Maracanazo.

Brazil’s defeat in 1950 was not just a sporting upset, it was a turning point in the country’s history, provoking a period of self-hatred and the birth of an inferiority complex that has yet to dissipate. In the Museum of Football, if you want to see the rest of the collection, you must first pass through the screening room and watch Uruguay’s two goals – there is no way around it. Equally, for those wanting to understand Brazilian football and culture, you must first go back to the Maracanazo and understand what happened that day – there is no way around it.

The 1950 World Cup was Brazil’s opportunity to establish themselves on the world stage. In Europe, the traditional footballing powers were in a period of reconstruction after the end of the second world war. Although it was also involved in the war, Brazil’s economy was booming in comparison. They had sent a force of only 25,000 to mainland Europe in the 1940s, suffering less than 1,000 casualties. Furthermore, Brazil actually received significant investment from the United States in exchange for declaring war on the Axis. On the football pitch, the Brazilian national team played throughout the war, facing only South American opposition and obtaining good results. In 1938, Brazil were one of the few countries to make a bid for hosting the planned 1942 World Cup, even though the strongest proposal came from Nazi Germany, who wanted to build on the success of the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, all tournament plans were scrapped and the World Cup would not be disputed again until 1950. When Fifa got together in Luxembourg in 1946 to discuss their first postwar event, Brazil was the only applicant remaining.

With the opportunity to host football’s biggest prize for the first time, Brazil got to work on planning the tournament of tournaments. With a positive economic situation and an optimistic population (the country had just made the shift to democracy after fifteen years of dictatorship), there was a genuine feeling that Brazil would win the World Cup and consolidate itself as a leading power in the modern world. With that in mind, they began construction of a brand new football stadium in the heart of then capital city Rio de Janeiro. The Maracanã stadium would be built to hold 180,000 spectators, overtaking Glasgow’s Hampden Park as the biggest in the world.

When 1950 came around, the tournament went smoothly and Brazil were praised for their superb planning and organisation. They also gained admirers for their performances on the pitch after flattening Mexico 4-0 in their opening match. Some concerns crept in after their second game however, a draw against Switzerland in São Paulo. Despite the excellent performance against Mexico, Brazil coach Flávio Costa made several changes to his side to play the Swiss, bringing in several players from São Paulo in an attempt to appease the home crowd – a common practice at the time with the Brazilian national side. Switzerland played their characteristically deep and defensive formation, while Brazil’s novel starting lineup struggled to break them down and puffed and wheezed to a 2-2 draw. Faith was restored after their last group match, when the Seleção defeated a tough Yugoslavia side 2-0 to qualify for the final stage.

In a never-before (and never-again) used format, the 1950 World Cup was decided by a round-robin group made up of the four group stage winners. Brazil would have to overcome Sweden, Spain and Uruguay to get their hands on the trophy. The victory against the strong Yugoslavian team filled the Seleção with confidence and it showed on the pitch. They were ruthless against Sweden and Spain, beating them 7-1 and 6-1 respectively, playing some of the most dominant football ever seen at a World Cup. British football writer Brian Glanville described them as “playing the football of the future, tactically unexceptional but technically superb”. They went into their final match against Uruguay needing only to avoid defeat to become world champions …

Sinful Sundays

Sundays are sacred in Brazil. For a population that works long hours, often Monday to Saturday, the 24 hours’ rest at the end of each week is inviolable.

A typical domingo could include a little lie-in, followed by a walk in the park and a stodgy-yet-comforting macarronada for lunch. There are often visits from family and, weather permitting, an impromptu barbecue-cum-samba is not unheard of. However the main event of the day, the one around which all other activities are scheduled, is the afternoon football.

4pm (5pm during Daylight Savings) on a Sunday is the Brazilian version of 3pm on a Saturday. But thankfully, unlike in the UK, Brazilian television networks honour the tradition and schedule the weekend’s prime fixtures for Sunday afternoon, showing the most attractive (in terms of viewing figures) to the whole country on terrestrial television.

I don’t necessarily watch the match selected for public television (being in São Paulo, it’s almost always Corinthians), but I can’t recall the last Sunday in which I wasn’t parked in front of a screen between four and six.

Many of my serenest and most satisfying moments in this country have been on Sundays, whether that be lounging on a beach, sitting outside a boteco watching the world go by or relaxing after a particularly good churrasco. However, these Sundays all incorporated the 4 o’clock kick-off.

That’s why, when the Sunday afternoon match is dull, it’s a bummer.

Yesterday’s game between São Paulo and Santos was one of these such occasions: a meeting between two sides who seemed determined to display every negative trait of Brazilian football from the past decade, made all the more unholy by the sacrosanct time at which it kicked off.

It was a match devoid of intelligence or strategy, as twenty-two players played out 90 minutes of aimless punts, fouls, set-pieces, sprints, dives and failed dribbles, apparently unaware that they were part of two 11-man teams. The final score was irrelevant (0-0, if you must know). It felt like a different sport, not the creative, spontaneous game of football, but something more rehearsed, overly individual and technical. Volleyball comes to mind.

Santos started better, consciously closing their opponents down high up the field, but when they managed to reclaim possession they had nothing to offer.

It was fitting then, that the biggest story of the match wasn’t happening on the field, but on the São Paulo bench, where creative midfielder (and ex-Santos hero) Paulo Henrique Ganso was sat, dropped from the first eleven.

São Paulo boss Muricy Ramalho justified his decision to drop Ganso, stating that he wanted a quicker attacking unit, one capable of exploiting space behind the Santos defence. A perfectly defensible stance, considering that Ganso is often so lethargic he makes Treebeard look hyperactive. However what they gained in pace, they lost in creativity.

With Luis Fabiano playing in front of an attacking midfield trio of Osvaldo, Dorlán Pabón and Douglas, and with Álvaro Pereira overlapping on the left flank, they weren’t short of attacking options, but they were short of someone to link them together. Without a midfield organiser to offer a constant passing option and vary their focus of attack, their forward quintet was like five delicious, freshly-sourced ingredients, without a chef to make them into a meal.

It’s hard to disagree with Muricy’s decision here though, as Ganso has been anonymous since the end of last season. The story of the playmaker, who at the age of twenty was (ridiculously) called the “best player in the world in his position”, seems to have unravelled completely.

Ganso came through at Santos at the same time as Neymar, and the two formed the spine of an excellent side that won the Copa Libertadores in 2011, managed by one Muricy Ramalho. In the early days, Ganso was considered the better player of the pair, possibly due to his position as an old-fashioned cerebral number 10, the like of which Brazil hadn’t produced in years. However while Neymar exploded, revealing his limitless potential and taking the world by storm, Ganso struggled with injuries and failed to develop key aspects of his game.

Neymar was handed a mammoth contract by Santos, while Ganso (who had been told for years that he was just as good, if not better, than his team-mate) was ignored. Jealousy appeared to creep in and Ganso was locked in bitter contract disputes with the club, not helped by the fractious relationship between former Santos president Luis Álvaro de Oliveira Ribeiro and DIS, the investment group that own a large part of the playmaker’s image rights.

Perennially injured or squabbling with the board, the Santos fans soon turned on him and in September 2012, Ganso migrated inland to nest at São Paulo FC in the most expensive transfer between two Brazilian clubs in history.

Despite feeling valued at his new club, the midfielder’s form never recovered. He has shown flashes of his former brilliance, but it never takes long before the dejected, absent, uninterested Paulo Henrique Ganso shows up again. Even Muricy Ramalho, the coach that believed in him unconditionally, has started to drop him.

Now it could be time for us to adjust our expectations of Ganso. The limitless promise of his early years is unlikely ever to be delivered, while the chances of a big European move seem remote. He is, however, a unique player with a distinct style that is best suited to South American football, where spaces are bigger and tempo is lower.