When the clock read 120 minutes at Rustenburg, U.S. fans were naturally crestfallen. Americans drawn to soccer for the first time by the spectacle of the World Cup will, I imagine, mostly stop paying attention now that they do not have a national rooting interest. Others, though, will look for new teams to support. Understanding this, I feel compelled to perform a public service: do NOT root for Brazil.
Shocking, I know. Nike commercials in airports and endless streams of idiotic drivel about Joga Bonito have convinced simple-minded fans that Brazil is a fun, free-rolling and entertaining team that plays soccer the right way. Their fans dance, play drums and bring loads of pretty women in skimpy clothes. What’s not to love? After seeing this team in person four times in this tournament, I have become a dedicated hater of Brazilian soccer, and I will offer the soccer newbie five reasons not to root for Brazil. And, since you may be new to this whole soccer thing, I’ll do it in a way that you’ll understand.
1. If you hate the Yankees, you should hate Brazil.
Like the Yankees, Brazil is the unquestioned master of its sport. Indeed, their success has been remarkably similar. In 105 years of World Series baseball, the Yankees have won 27 titles (a 25.7 percent championship rate); Brazil has gone to 19 World Cups, winning five of them (a 26.3 percent championship rate). More than that, both teams act with an air of preening smuggery that is completely unappetizing to all of their fans. They expect to win, and speak of other teams in dismissive and condescending tones. Like the Yankees, Brazil seems to get all the calls and all the luck, and will rarely pass on an opportunity to tell you how amazing they are.
2. If you hate the Red Sox, you should hate Brazil.
Having lived in New England for six years now, I have grown weary of the angst-ridden articles and news reports about the Red Sox. Boston fans drone on and one about every bit of minutiae involving their team, and they lose all perspective about what their team is and means. Similarly, Brazil fans, newspapers and television programs devote endless solipsistic adoration on the every movement and development of their team. Though Brazil has won five World Cups, if you spend much time with any Brazilian fan, you’ll begin to forget that they also came up short in 14 others.
3. If you hate Manu Ginobili, you should hate Brazil.
Yes, I know Manu is Argentine, but in his approach to his sport, he is utterly Brazilian. Every NBA fan not in San Antonio hates Ginobili because he refuses to play an honest brand of basketball, flopping and feigning injury at every turn. Similarly, though there is no doubt that Brazil is massively talented, they are also infuriating in the degree to which they dive about and go to ground at the slightest provocation. The hulking Brazilian centerback Lucio, who is almost always the biggest and roughest player on the field, has no compunction about cynically throwing elbows or kicking ankles, but the moment a 150-pound midfielder breathes on him, he falls to the ground as though struck by a sniper. He will invariably roll around on the field for several minutes, making a naïve viewer certain that he had suffered a compound femoral fracture or dislocated knee … But no! Miracle of miracles, the awarding of a free kick has healed him!
More shamefully, against Turkey in the 2002 World Cup, Brazil was on the business end of a whooping until Rivaldo drew a mendacious red card on an undeserving Turk by fooling the referee into thinking he had been hit in the face when in fact nobody came anywhere near his ugly mug. American fans might remember that in 1994 Brazil was in a tight 0-0 match against the US. Frustrated at the temerity of the American team to actually try to beat them, Leonardo, the Brazilian left back, unleashed an ugly elbow that broke Tab Ramos’s skull.
The real Brazil is not Ronaldinho doing tricks or Roberto Carlos dancing with a ball through an airport. No, this team cheats, flops and pulls every dirty trick in the book in order to win. When they start to lose, they display an ugly petulance that is unmatched in international soccer.
4. If you hate Tim Tebow, you should hate Brazil.
No sporting figure in America has caused as much division of opinion as Florida’s Hesiman-winning quarterback. People who hate him will often groan at his over-the-top religiosity and the degree to which he was over-hyped. Well, if you are looking for an over-hyped religious zealot, you need look no further than Brazil’s midfielder Kaka.
At one point, Kaka was being touted as the best player in the world. In retrospect, that is laughable nonsense. At this World Cup, I have had the pleasure of seeing Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Kaka play. Kaka is not even close to being in their class. In fact, he is probably only the fifth or sixth best player on his own team. Ronaldo scares his opponents any time he is on the field; Messi dazzles with the ball at his feet. Kaka … well, he is sometimes pretty OK. I used to think that he was the worst top-tier player in the world, but now I know that he is among the best second-tier players, at best.
In Brazil, though, Kaka is loved more than any active player. Part of it is because he is pretty, and part of it is because he passes on no opportunity to tell you about Jesus. In fact, under his jersey he wears a shirt that says, “I Belong to Jesus.” That may or may not be true, but what is true is that Kaka does not belong in any discussion of the world’s truly elite players. As someone who would prefer to see sports and religion kept separate, I will be glad to see Kaka leave the Cup.
5. If you have Duke, you should hate Brazil.
In my youth, I hated Duke. They made me so angry that when they won, I would sit fuming for hours. Duke championships induced nausea and streams of profanity. No basketball team infuriates more people than does Duke’s, and let’s face it a big part of this has to do with class and race. Duke’s students are (perceived to be?) very rich, very white, very privileged and very smug. I remember that, while working at Duke, the school’s employees were almost all UNC or N.C. State fans. When I would ask them about it, they would reply almost in an air of bemusement, asking me why in the world any working-class black person would root for Duke.
For the Brazil-Portugal match, I sat in the Brazil rooting section. Surrounded by yellow jerseys and green wigs, I noticed something. My brothers and I were the only black people in that section of the stands. For the next few minutes, we played a game of “Where’s Negro?” trying to spot the black people. Not one. In a nation that is, depending on the survey and methodology, between 45 percent and 65 percent black, this is shocking. I had sort of expected to see lots of hues of browns and blacks, but the Brazilian crowd was so white that it made a night at the Yale Club seem like a Nation of Islam rally.
In an American context, there is always a bit of an uncomfortable aspect of the fact that so many sporting events involve mostly white people watching mostly black people. In the Brazilian context, this is even more troubling because the mostly white Brazilian upper class has constructed a powerfully efficient hegemonic race system that marginalizes blacks, but celebrates their bodies as laborers, sexual beings and athletes. Sitting in an all-white crowd of people from a mostly-brown nation did not sit well with me.
At any rate, if Cameron Crazies infuriate you because they are a bunch of privileged, suburban white kids who drive BMW’s and wear Izod, then the rich Brazilians who travel to the World Cup will provide ample fuel for your angry fires.
In many ways, I know that I am fighting a losing battle. Simple-minded fans will always just choose a winner, and because Brazil has become suddenly hip, they will choose the yellow jerseys of the Brazilians. I urge you, though, do not do this. In this World Cup, Germany, Holland and Argentina have all played attractive and attacking soccer. Choose them. Ghana is the last African nation standing. Choose them. Spain plays with class and flair. Choose them. But please, just do NOT root for Brazil.
Brian Fobi is a Yale graduate student based in South Africa attending more than a half dozen games during the World Cup.