Being an expat is never an easy task. But, when you are Brazilian, love football and are 19,000 miles away from home during a World Cup being played in Brazil, these feelings are made a bit more extreme. That was the case with the load of Brazilians that left the comfort of their homes during the middle of the night in the first hours of Friday, June 13, to see, together with their fellow countrymen, the Seleção’s debut at this year’s competition.
Throughout Dongguan, the scenario was the same at many spots—a green-and-yellow flag, lots of yellow shirts with the admired and envied five stars representing the World Cups Brazil has won in previous showings. The excitement built up through the night until the clocks hit 4 a.m., the moment of the so awaited kick-off, a moment Brazil had been longing for since being chosen to host this year’s tournament years ago.
The first match of the World Cup, in a sold-out Arena Corinthians—a flashy new stadium built in São Paulo, South America’s largest city with 10 million inhabitants, that cost around US$ 600 million with money coming mainly from public subsidies—was, from a pure football point of view, not that big of a deal. Both teams suffered a lot from nerves and didn’t reach their full potential.
Immediately after the goal, almost the 68,000 attendees started booing and offending president Rousseff, who saw the match together with FIFA’s leader Joseph Blatter in the VIP boxes.
But football is nothing without its contexts. And, as a World Cup match, being played by Brazil in Brazil with the home squad looking to win the title again, and for the first time as hosts, the game was frantic, full of subtleties and deserved all the expectations that it had brought until that hour. Brazil’s run, as is usual in Scolari’s teams, didn’t have the best start. Even worse, Croatia, a good team but far from a decent contestant for a title run, got the Seleção back to its defense and completely out of place.
Croatia’s Ivica Olic, a solid striker from the tough German Bundesliga, had enough space to dare get out of the penalty box just to explore the right side of Brazil’s defensive half, where Daniel Alves did a terrible job. Olic got past the Barcelona winger, attracted defender Thiago Silva and made a ground level cross that passed through David Luiz and the Croat Jelavic and found Marcelo, who put the ball in his own net at just 10 minutes into the match.
That was the worst scenario Brazil could have imagined. In a country that still hasn’t forgotten about the Maracanazo, in 1950—when the then white-jerseyed Brazil lost to Uruguay at the final match of that year’s World Cup, in front of 200,000 Brazilians in the newly built Maracanã, every sign that something is not right with the team gets a sense of urgency that quickly spreads in the stands.
The support was not coming from the crowd anymore, and some players started to feel the pressure to get the goals needed for a victory. Paulinho’s play, especially, had nothing in common with the effort that helped the squad in the 2013Confederations Cup. Besides him, Daniel Alves and Hulk also had poor performances, as well as the goalkeeper Julio Cesar, who plays in the MLS with Toronto FC.
But Brazil had Oscar, Neymar and a little help from its friends. Oscar dos Santos, the Chelsea midfielder, got his act together after really poor showings in the friendly games prior to the World Cup, and had a really good run.
He fought for the ball in his offensive half, got it from two Croats and assisted Neymar, who beat Stepe Pletikosa with a not so strong, but really well put left strike that passed on the minimum space between the keeper’s hand and the post. The party started in the stands at 4:30 a.m. for the 200 million Brazilians everywhere, even here in Dongguan.
Still, it was no easy task for Scolari’s boys to leave a good impression. The first half ended with the score tied at 1-1, and with Brazilians admitting they didn’t expect that much from their checkered opponents. The second half started the same way, with both teams being much more successful in their defensive chores than on the attacking sides—and then Fred showed up.
Brazil’s number 9—a jersey that has been worn by the likes of Careca and Ronaldo—is the main reference for the Seleção on offense. All balls look for him, and if the team struggles to get them inside the box, than he’s out of the game. That was the case, until a single pass found him. Fred got the ball, tried to pass through the defender and, unashamed by all the cameras recording the scene, dove without second thought to the ground.
Yuichi Nishimura, the only professional referee in the World Cup, had no doubt to point to the penalty spot, even though nothing had happened. As is customary with Brazil, almost always there’s a referee to help when things get difficult. Neymar, who had nothing to do with that, scored despite a poor shot that Pletikosa almost got out. It was the young 10’s second goal in only his first WC match, a feat that no Brazilian has pulled off since Amarildo during the winning run in 1962.
With the score now showing Brazil ahead, it was time for the crowd to focus their attention somewhere else. Immediately after the goal, almost the 68,000 attendees started booing and offending president Rousseff, who saw the match together with FIFA’s leader Joseph Blatter in the VIP boxes. Down on the field, the 2-1 score didn’t change the game dynamic much, and Croatia still delivered some danger to Julio Cesar, who was far from a secure keeper in Brazilian eyes. The Balkan team even got a goal, but Nishimura called a foul by Olic on Cesar that, perhaps, only he was able to spot.
The Croats kept their impressive and quick—albeit not that talented—show, but started to give spaces in their defense. In the 89th minute, Oscar enjoyed the gift and, using his big toe as Romario and Ronaldo so brilliantly did, got it past Pletikosa’s slow fall and put it into the net for the final 3-1, securing Brazil’s invincibility when playing competitive matches on home soil that comes from 1975. In the stands, the fans forgot about Rousseff and started cheering again, the same thing happening wherever there was a yellow shirt with five stars around the world. The run for the sixth title is alive and kicking in the Brazilian dream.