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Futebol Nation: A Footballing History of Brazil By David Goldblatt

Release date: 05th May, 2014
Publisher: Penguin

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Some fans would disagree, but in my opinion, the most complete football team performance ever was staged forty four years ago when Brazil beat Italy 4-1 in the World Cup final in Mexico.

Not only did this magnificent display confirm Pelé’s assertion that football was O Jogo Benito, the beautiful game, it marked the point at which Brazil started to become a unified nation: it was the first time the national team had featured in a televised broadcast seen across the whole country, by rich and poor, north and south.

So significant was this moment that following the final, Jornal do Brazil, described as a “sober publication”, said that, “Brazil’s victory with the ball compares with the conquest of the moon by the Americans.”

Brazil, argues David Goldblatt, is not a distant temple dedicated solely to music and carnival, home to a form of “languid tropical hedonism” as portrayed in images of sun-drenched beaches and lilting palms. Moreover, he says, its music, film industry, visual arts and even its coffee industry are nowhere near as dominant on a global scale as they should be, but there is one sphere in which Brazil reigns supreme: football.

Brazil is the only nation on earth to have featured in every World Cup. It’s won five and lost two other finals. The magnificent statue of Christ the Redeemer may have been sculpted by a Franco-Polish sculptor, but football how it should be played was sculpted to perfection in Brazil.

There’s an academic feel to Futebol Nation, although it’s a welcome dimension which complements the narrative. Indeed, without the brief political and economic history, together with Goldblatt’s astute acknowledgement of African influence on Brazilian life, it would be difficult to appreciate how football embedded itself within the national psyche.

Introduced to the country by British expatriates, Brazilians took no time taking up the footballing baton. It was the start of a process that unified a nation and ultimately created a conveyor belt of phenomenal football talent.

No team since 1970, even a Brazilian one, has come close to emulating the perfection seen at the Azteca Stadium. In the meantime, a number of cynical, almost arrogant features have crept into Brazil’s game, although we can probably comfort ourselves in the knowledge that at least they’re trying to play the game properly. A re-run of Mexico 1970 at this year’s World Cup would prove it beyond doubt.


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