"Come on lads. Group cry."
To the tune of (We are Sailing) by Rod Stewart:
“No one likes us. No one likes us.
No one likes us. We don’t care.
We are Bra-zil. We are Bra-zil.
We are Bra-zil. From Ri-o.”
Once the final, elongated vowels of Osório Duque-Estrada’s anthem bellow out at the Estádio Mineirão tonight and hairs on necks return to their normal shape, the reality that Brazil are in a dog fight will sink in. A siege mentality that had already been constructed around the Seleccão after the first wobbly group games has been reinforced to the extent that one would be forgiven for thinking Brazil had been underdogs all along. The injury to Neymar and, to a lesser extent, the suspension of Thiago Silva adds further fuel to this particular fire.
“He was hunted,” they cry. Try telling that to James Rodriguez after Saturday’s – at times – brutal quarter final. “Brutal” being the apposite word here, used as it has been by none other than German manager Joachim Löw in the powder-keg build up to the semi-final as he brought to attention “brutal fouls, people blocking opponents off however they could”.
All of which brings us to a rather unusual juncture in this wonderful World Cup. Perhaps the last vestiges of true romanticism were extinguished by the exits of Colombia and Costa Rica, replaced by cool, calculated efficiency, embodied by the compact Germans, under-par Argentines, ruthless Brazilians and the steetwise Dutch. And with every full-blooded, high octane thunderbastard of a tackle by Fernandinho, a little more of the Brazilian magic dissipates into the humidity.
Unused as they are to criticisms of their discipline, or at least not to the extent that it actually detracts from the nice stuff, this Brazil side are taking the concept of ‘mixing it’ too close to the wire. And they are going unpunished. So you have a situation where niggly fouls, time-wasting, reducers and gamesmanship are all passing by without sanction. If Fernandinho or David Luiz or Luis Gustavo can get away sticking one on Thomas Muller early doors tonight, what are they going to do? “You’re in a game son and you’re not just playing against us 11 either. Remember that.”
What we are witnessing then is a confluence of dirty tactics, lack of strong refereeing and a desire to win that is all-consuming, which seems to have manifest itself through lots of fouling and lots of crying. A potentially noxious mix if allowed to go unchecked, which at present, seems to be the case.
Potentially noxious, but also, if certain aspects of the narrative can be promoted above others, bizarrely romantic. This Brazil side are basically Wimbledon – a fervent, random mix that at times (think David Luiz, Hulk, a striker named Fred who has actually grown a moustache over the course of the tournament AND SCORED A GOAL WITH IT) can border on the slapstick. Or at the very least, has the potential to. And they’ve finally added the missing ingredient – specifically, kicking hell out of everyone as if possessed.
With great notoriety then, comes precisely no responsibility. Everyone knows Brazil are up against it; everyone knows the talisman is injured. Everyone knows that 200mn Brazilians want their team to win, that the noise in the Estadio Mineirão tonight will be like nothing else in football and that it’s still every romantic’s dream for the hosts to lift the trophy on Sunday. It’s a very different romance to joga bonito, though if Brazil are successful that particular narrative will be peddled to within an inch of its life in years to come. What a bunch of lovable, incredibly dangerous bastards, people will tell their kids.
Imagine that Nike advert from France ’98 reinvented for this current crazy gang. A load of yobs running riot through an airport kicking fuck out of people at the baggage drop. Look, there’s Hulk two-footed tackling a vicar outside duty free. Is that Marcelo rolling around in the Wetherspoons after minimal contact from an Easy Jet air hostess? Why is Fernandinho nicking all the bags off the carousel? A real banda loca for our times.
This modern Brazil team and Big Phil; a match made in heaven. To hell with ugly if it is preceded by ‘winning’. And that is this Brazil side. Expect pulling, kicking, sliding, diving, probably some crying. This is a new brand of entertainment. Victory against the Germans tonight and it will most certainly be ‘Viva la banda loca’.