Just minutes before the Germany- Brazil game was due to kick off, my friends and I were in a bar making plans to go to Rio. We wanted to be there if Brazil won the semi-final and got through to the final.
As someone who has lived in Brazil for a while, I would never have bet against the Brazilian football team winning; and I’m not saying this because I know a whole lot about football. I really don’t. I say this because of Brazil’s impressive track record over the last few years.
I was partying on the streets of São Paulo just last year after the team won the Confederations Cup; then came their silver medal at the Olympics the year before that…and well, they’re Brazil! I’ve almost become accustomed to being in a country that does well at football tournaments.
However before this game against Germany had even started, many of those I spoke to weren’t so confident that Brazil would win this game. “We’re just not playing the type of football we’re famous for” said one of my friends after the game against Colombia. Leading up to the game I heard many people saying the same, that this was likely to be a difficult match (especially without Neymar). But as the whistle blew and the semi-final started, there was a nervous but hopeful energy in the bar I was watching from.
Then came the horror show.
The first goal was disheartening, but people around me were still screaming at the TV, encouraging their team to claim that equaliser. Then the second goal went in, then the third and then the fourth. The bar that just twenty minutes earlier had been pulsating with noise and hope had descended into a stunned silence. Everyone around me was sat open mouthed, looking on in utter disbelief at what was unfolding on the screen.
By the time the fifth goal had gone in, the bar was so quiet that I was able to hear a guy sitting a few tables away on his phone. “Please. Stop crying Mum! I’m coming home. I can’t watch this anymore, I’ll see you soon!”
I’m not gonna lie, on an awkward scale of one to ten…this was AT LEAST an eleven. To go from feeling like you’re in the midst of a carnival to feeling like you’re at a wake, in less than 30 minutes, well…this felt very unsettling!
When the second half kicked off, people around me weren’t as fixated by what was happening on the screen anymore. They knew it was all over, and the game was acting as background noise as they talked amongst themselves. Fifteen minutes into the second half and I’d struck up a conversation with one of my English speaking friends too. I can’t remember what we were discussing, but after a few minutes I recall hearing a woman on the table over from ours. “Wait, he isn’t Brazilian, is he?” she asked her friends. “What language is he speaking?”
At that I looked over at this gaggle of drunk women, who were now looking me up and down. Then one of them then asked, “you’re German, aren’t you?” (A lot louder than was really necessary!)
“No!” I replied urgently switching to Portuguese, “I’m English!”
“Yep! He’s a German!” said another, as if I’d just confirmed her suspicions with this answer. This naturally aroused the interest of those sat nearby, which made me laugh nervously. “I promise,” I pleaded, “I’m really English!”
“He’s laughing at us Brazilians!” one said. She then dipped her hand into the ice bucket that had been keeping her beer cold and threatened to throw some ice cubes at me. When the serious expression dropped from her face and she began to laugh, a wave of relief instantly swept through me!
She’d been messing with me!
it highlighted something I’d not really thought about as that score line got higher though. For those of you who’re not aware, Brazil has the largest settlement of Germans outside of Germany. As a pale guy with a pair of blue eyes, every once in a while I’m sometimes mistaken for someone of German ancestry…which would be fine had I not been mistaken on the day the country was being crushed by the Germans!
When the sixth goal went in, people around me began to applaud and whistle at the screen. They’d clearly had a little time to accept the inevitable, and their shock had given way to a respectful acknowledgement of their opponents. Then when the final whistle sounded someone stood up and screamed in mock surprise, “I’m really confused. When are the penalties!?!”
Brazil is a country famous for its football, but what happened immediately after wasn’t nearly as devastating as I was expecting (or as some of the media may have you believe). I wasn’t walking past Brazilians on my way home who were sobbing into shop doorways, burning buildings or going on violent rampages. I’ve read that there were some instances of this happening, however as I walked from one area of the to another to meet a friend, I didn’t see ANYTHING like this. In fact, given that most people I know either went straight home to nurse their pride or stayed out to continue drinking, these reports surprised me. But I guess in a football loving country of almost 200 million people, incidents like that are bound to happen after such a big loss.
Once I’d met my friend, we sat down, ordered beers and then I excused myself to go to the bathroom. When I returned I found my friend grinning at me. As soon as I’d left, a concerned Brazilian woman had gone over to advise my friend that I should be careful. “Being German in place full of Brazilians might be dangerous for him, make sure you tell him!”
From that moment on I made sure my Brazil scarf was clearly visible around my English neck!
This semi-final put a dampener on the night for many, but those sad looking faces in the stadium and on Copacabana beach during the game certainly aren’t the faces I’ve seen on the streets of the city since (even after the third place play-off!). The result has definitely stung, but I’ve actually been surprised by how self-deprecating many Brazilians have been since their defeat. They’ve had to swallow a large dose of humble pie; but those I’ve talked to have done so with a commendable amount of humour…something I’ve found very endearing. My favourite example of this came from my friend Carlos during the half time break.
“I really can’t believe itl” he exclaimed, as if waking up to what the five goals meant for Brazil. In attempt to cheer him up I turned to him and said, “Do you know what? Brazil has played badly in one game. England left the competition weeks ago. As an Englishman I’ve never seen my country win the World Cup. You’ve seen this happen twice in your lifetime with Brazil, I can’t even begin to imagine what that’s like! So you shouldn’t be too sad!”
He rolled his eyes. “Andrew, please don’t compare English football with Brazilian football. Not now. I don’t have time for this!” Then he then flashed me a meaningful grin, one that communicated everything he wanted to say. ‘Don’t even think about mocking me. We might be losing by a hell of a lot, but when it comes to football…I’m still Brazilian!’