FOX Soccer Exclusive
Brazil deserves to host World Cup
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Brazil and football are so closely associated that it remains almost unimaginable that the problems facing that nation will lead to a less-than-satisfactory World Cup.
No, they aren't going to move the 2014 football festival out of the game's second home. FIFA and Brazil won't let that happen -- nor should they. The politicians and football authorities need to find a way to address legitimate grievances and share the financial burden of an event that probably has become too big for its own good.
Brazil clearly deserves to host a second Cup for the best of reasons: it has been the dominant nation in the game, a country whose very global identity is associated with the sport. Nobody has won the World Cup more often and, arguably, nobody has done it with the elan of Brazil at its best.
Why else is Pele -- who stepped off the competitive stage as a New York Cosmo in the late 1970s -- still one of the most-recognized figures in the game? It's because he was the first global superstar, arriving in 1958 as a 17-year old and staying at the top while television took the game to every corner of the globe. People who never saw Pele play still argue that he is the all-time best. Those of us who did, won't disagree. That's not just because he was one of the most gifted goal-scorers and passers, but because his era defined the style which we still demand of the Brazilians.
There is an air of romanticism about this, because the truth is that not all of Brazil's championship teams have been that fluid (remember 2002?) and some that didn't win have actually been rather pedestrian, but the greatest of Brazilian sides and its leading players have always had that extra bit of magic.
Brazil's 1970 winning squad is often regarded as the greatest team in World Cup history (Photo: AllSport).
The 1970 Mexico World Cup-winning side may well have been the best. That was Pele's finale, and included the great Carlos Alberto in central defense, along with players like Rivelino, Tostao, Jairzinho, and Gérson. With attacks coming from every place in that squad, the final victory over Italy was remarkable in its execution, while the most-anticipated match of the tournament, against England, was a classic.
From the standpoint of defining Brazil as "the" soccer nation, the Mexico World Cup was significant because that tournament was the one that began the global television age. Pele's first title in 1958 had electrified the "soccer world" but not the sports world; FIFA's World Cup was yet to reach that level. By 1970, even Americans could see the final, albeit in a theater or sports arena on closed-circuit, or six months later when the game finally showed up on a broadcast television sports show.
But Brazil's role in defining the game actually dates back to the era between the two World Wars, Brazilian players exciting the Olympics with a style of game distinct from the Europeans. The emphasis on close ball-control, on passing, on individual skills has never changed, although Brazil’s national team managers have struggled with the task of retaining that tradition while still handling the fitter, more robust challenges that come from the modern, well-prepared opponents.
It's actually rather fitting that the current Brazilian team seems to have a problem that most sides would die for: Luiz Felipe Scolari has so much attacking talent, so many players with real flair that he may have trouble getting all of them enough of the spotlight.
If Neymar is the emerging superstar, he is supported by the likes of Oscar and Paulinho, while Fred, Hulk, Leandro Damiao, Bernard and Jo are all challenging for spots and making every argument that they belong. If Scolari gets the equations right, it's possible that this 2014 team could look a bit like the 1970 side next summer.
That, of course, is what true lovers of the beautiful game want to see happen. Much as we can appreciate the pace and power of top clubs and national teams, it is that audacious Brazilian approach, the willingness to take on and beat defenders and to attempt the unexpected which has created the bond between Brazil and its admirers.
Brazilian supporters are known for their colorful costumes, samba drums and passionate support of the "selecao." That's why the Confederations Cup was both instructive and provocative: it made perfect sense for a dissatisfied public to use football as the platform for protest.
Football, after all, is what people think of when they hear the word Brazil.