Tuesday, June 29, 2010

World Cup in Haiti: "Why Do We Love Brazil? We Don't Know Why, But We Love Brazil!" *

By guest blogger Jean-Cyril Pressoir

Brazil breezed through their World Cup round of 16, hammering Chile 3-0 for their fourth consecutive win in "South Africa 2010". Just like they did at the end of the three previous Brazil matches, Haitians took to the streets, Port-au-Prince suddenly looked like Rio and rum flowed.

Thinking as far back as I can remember, to España'82, my oldest World Cup memories are of Brazil. That World Cup was a very bad World Cup though. For many different reasons: because the host nation, Spain, had a dismal showing, because Italy won it, because Brazil did not...

Back then, I was a seven year old barefoot kid with a mango stained T-Shirt (World Cups are a summer thing and summer is mango season) and I distinctively recall watching two games of España'82, both of them with my late grandmother: Brazil-Argentina (3-1) and Italy-Brazil (3-2). Of the first, I remember mainly Zico, the Brazilian playmaker. And tremendous joy. How wonderful Zico made us feel, how happy my Grand-Mere was! From the other game however, I only remember the ignominious Paolo Rossi, the Italian scoundrel who, with his hat trick, sent Brazil crashing out of the tournament and crushed my Grand-Mere's heart. The result plunged everyone at the house into a state of shock and complete sadness. The tournament was over for us as we didn't watch any more games after that.

28 years have passed and my resentment at the Italians has not. I now have a seven year old nephew, and he too, is discovering the World Cup and football fever. He has his little "Prestige" (La bière d'Haïti!) World Cup calendar which he meticulously updates with the day's results, watches every match when he is not in school and could already name all the countries that have won the Cup at least once (there are seven). Just as for most here in post quake Haiti, he is welcoming the distraction the month long football tournament provides. No more rubble, no more talk of transitional shelters, no more controversies about the upcoming elections... For a month.

Although I admit that I work very hard at turning my nephew into a true Madridista (Real Madrid fan) as far as Club Football is concerned, I have left his options open when it comes to his international loyalties. And while he is at an age where those loyalties are still shifting, he did ask me for a Jersey as the tournament was starting: a Brazil shirt, with Kaká's number "10" emblazoned in the back.

Obviously, having been to the World Cup just once in 1974, we need a surrogate team to support. And truth be told, all Haitians are not die hard Seleçao (Brazil) fanatics. Argentinean superstars Diego Maradona in his playing days and Lionel Messi today have won over the hearts of many Haitians who support the Albiceleste (Argentina), while a few others cheer for the Mannshaft (Germany), some like the Oranje (Netherlands) and a handful of lunatics profess their love for the Azzuri (Italy). The latter being, by the way, only excusable for those who are of Italian descent. All together, they nonetheless remain oddities lost in a sea of yellow and green.

So What's With Haitians and Brazil?

When I asked my nephew why he wanted a Brazil jersey and not another one, he looked at me with genuine disbelief, most probably wondering why I ask such stupid questions, shrugged his shoulders and replied "because, I like Brazil".

I now regret that I didn't think of asking my Grand-Mere, back then in 1982, why we were rooting for Brazil. Although I am not completely certain that her answer would have been much more enlightening than my nephew's. I actually can very well picture her shrugging her shoulders and simply saying "parce que, j'aime Brésil".

Let's be honest, I rooted for Brazil in 1982 just because of my grandmother. But that Brazil team is why I like Brazil now.

After the three goals he inflicted Brazil, Paolo Rossi went on to score three more goals in España'82, paving Italy's way to success. Rossi was brilliantly effective. I'll grant him that. But to me, he was a mere "pouncer of the ball", the ideal complement to Italy's "vault" tactics. Zico on the other hand, was a sublime artist who would sadly never get to lift a World Cup trophy. Although Brazil has won it a record five times, Zico is part of the lost generation of Brazilian football; at two World Cups, in 1982 and 1986, he led the most talented group one could dream of, and played the most beautiful version of the beautiful game. Yet, Brazil lost and bowed out on both occasions.

But despite their lack of success, that 1980s Brazilian team converted more Haitians to "Jogo Bonito" and wearing yellow than the Italian 1982 World Champions could convert to "Catenaccio" and wearing blue.

Zico carried out what Pelé had started at the World Cup in Sweden in 1958: seducing Haitians (and others too...) with dazzling skills and fancy attacking plays. The fact that Pelé and several other Brazilian players were black, also probably did not prove too unpopular with crowds in Haiti.

Brazilian players today, like Robinho and Kaká, are trying to keep the feeling alive. It's that feeling that gets us going, and we get it from "bon boul". Pretty football.

* In 1992, French football's ultimate bad boy Eric Cantona, was banned from playing football in France for throwing a ball at a referee. He then went to ply his trade in England, at Leeds United. Arriving half way into the season, Cantona played a major part in his new team becoming English Champions that very same year and was an instant crowd favorite. When Cantona was given given the mic to address a crowd celebrating the title, he said: "Why I love you? I don't know why, but I love you!"

Cheeky World Cup commercial by Haiti's Prestige beer:

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