World Cup ’94 : WORLD CUP USA ’94 / GROUP B PREVIEW : That Old Familiar Tune : Brazil’s Fans Heartened by Parreira’s Pledge to Return to <i> Samba Soccer</i>

Share via

Brazil. The name is still spoken in tones bordering on reverence in the soccer world. Between 1958 and ‘70, the country’s colors were worn by the most gifted player in the sport’s history, the legendary Pele, as the national team won three World Cups and enchanted fans throughout the world with a style so joyous and graceful it was considered as much dance as sport: samba soccer .

Brazilians called it jogo bonito , beautiful game, and they traveled by the tens of thousands to watch it, incessantly playing their drums and maracas, waving flags and banners and wearing the same golden shirts as their heroes. Well, most of them wore the golden shirts. Some young women, just as on the beach at Rio de Janeiro, chose not to wear shirts of any color, adding to the carnivale atmosphere.

It was difficult for fans even of the opposing team not to become swept away in the exuberance. Even today, most soccer enthusiasts will tell you their favorite team in the World Cup is their own and that their second-favorite is Brazil.

But the Brazil of today is not the Brazil that won its last world title almost a quarter-century ago and its almost mystical hold over soccer fans is a product more of romance for days gone by than reality.

Planeloads of colorful, uninhibited Brazilian fans will still follow their team to the 1994 World Cup in the United States, and they will still turn first-round games in Palo Alto and Pontiac, Mich., into festivals. But they know better than anyone else that to describe the play of their team as jogo bonito is no more apt than calling today’s New York Yankees “The Bronx Bombers.”

Brazilians prefer to blame it on Europe. In Pele’s prime, which, not coincidentally, also was Brazil’s soccer prime, the country’s players remained at home to play professionally. According to Paul Gardner’s book, “The Simplest Game,” Italy’s most fabled team, Juventus of Turin, once offered to buy Pele’s contract from his hometown team, Santos, only to discover that Brazil’s government had declared him a national treasure, which meant he could not be legally exported.


Today, 11 of the 22 members of Brazil’s national team, including eight of the starting 11, have opted for more lucrative deals in Europe where, according to Brazilians, their players develop bad habits. In fact, what they develop is an understanding of the modern game, which, tedious as it is, emphasizes a more physical, defensive, counterattacking approach.

When Brazil won its first title in 1958, French goalkeeper Claude Abbes said: “I would rather play against 10 Germans than one Brazilian.” Now, Abbes might think he was playing against 10 Germans. Instead of hearing Sergio Mendes in their heads when they watch their team, Brazilian fans today hear Wagner. It might have an undeniable beat, but they cannot dance to it.

During the 1990 World Cup, when Brazil, under Coach Sebastiao Lazaroni, played with two instead of three forwards, midfielder Dunga actually boasted: “No more jogo bonito . This is the Brazil of sweat and sacrifice.”

It also was a Brazil that, for the third consecutive World Cup, failed to advance beyond the quarterfinals, losing in the second round to, of all teams, archrival Argentina. During that game, a Brazilian fan hoisted a banner that said: “IF LAZARONI IS A COACH, I’M THE POPE.” Soon after, Lazaroni was not the coach.

Enter Carlos Alberto Parreira, who will join the United States’ Bora Milutinovic as the only coach to guide three countries in the World Cup. Parreira, 51, coached Kuwait in 1982 and the United Arab Emirates in 1990. In between, he served his first stint as the coach of his native Brazil before being fired in 1987.

When he returned, he knew all the right things to say. “The defensive football is not Brazil,” he told World Soccer magazine. “We want to go back to our roots--to the flat-back four, zonal marking and attacking football.

“That is how (our players) have played since they were boys. You cannot put Brazilian players into a (straitjacket). Brazilians play best when you leave them free.”

Asked if the fans had pressured him into adopting that style, he said: “It is not so much pressure, but, yes, there is a feeling that that is the Brazilian way.”

Parreira enjoyed the good will while it lasted because he knew it could not be saved for a rainy day. The storm came when Brazil lost its first World Cup qualifying game ever, 2-0 to Bolivia. “Parreira Goes Down in History,” said the headline in one Brazilian newspaper. Brazil survived, becoming the only team to qualify for each World Cup since the first one in 1930, but Parreira is no more popular now than Lazaroni.


“Thank God I have a good family and I am financially secure,” he told World Soccer. “Sometimes I said to myself, ‘Is it really worth it? Do I want to go on?’ You have to be a kind of Robocop to do this job.

“It got to the point where we beat Bolivia, 6-0, and one newspaper in Sao Paulo accused us of playing defensively.”

Perhaps that criticism was unfounded, but there is little question that Brazil is more cautious than Parreira intended when he accepted the job. The team again will come to the World Cup with a two-forward attack, inciting the wrath of Pele.

“Individually, we have good athletes, but, as a team, we are not organized,” he told a Rio newspaper, O Globo , in a thinly veiled swipe at Parreira.

Parreira said beautiful soccer does not work without beautiful players. “It’s true, we lack creativity,” he recently told the Associated Press. “I look, but I don’t find it. The fact is that Brazil today doesn’t have a great No. 10 jersey any more, like a Rivelino, an Ademir da Guia or a Zico. Zico was the last. Give me one, and I’ll put him on the team right now.”

For that, blame it on Rio.

According to Gardner’s book, Brazilian professional teams used to hold tryouts for boys 12 and up, who, even if they did not own soccer shoes would come by the hundreds.

“Social factors have undermined that system,” Gardner wrote. “The breeding grounds that spawned all those kids have been eaten up. The massive migration of people to the cities has meant much less space for kids to play on. Heavy traffic has dealt a mortal wound to street soccer. . . . Rising standards of living have meant that soccer is no longer the only career option for poor boys.”


Few Brazilians would disagree. They see potential stars emerging, such as 17-year-old forward Ronaldo, but not enough to replace the veterans on this World Cup team, which has an average age of 28. There is a sense in Brazil of now or not again for a long time.

It could be now. The world press, oddsmakers from Las Vegas to London and even Coach Berti Vogts of the defending champion Germans, have made Brazil the favorite.

But, pelted by runaway inflation, political scandal, high crime and the recent death of Formula One champion Ayrton Senna, a national hero, Brazilians have been through too much to be optimistic about their soccer team. They were not encouraged by last Sunday’s 1-1 tie against badly undermanned Canada in a friendly at Edmonton. But they are ever hopeful.

As the song goes:

“Brazil . . . “Where hearts were entertained in June, “We stood beneath an amber moon, “And softly murmured, ‘Some day soon.’ ”