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A match made in football heaven

Football and samba. Two passions which dominate the Brazilian soul, entwined as in a marriage. In just over three months' time it will be Brazil's footballing artists who take the stage for a first home World Cup since 1950.

sports Updated: Mar 04, 2014 18:13 IST

Football and samba. Two passions which dominate the Brazilian soul, entwined as in a marriage.

In just over three months' time it will be Brazil's footballing artists who take the stage for a first home World Cup since 1950.

But first, Rio de Janeiro and much of the rest of the country will sway this weekend to a samba rhythm as the non-stop beat of Carnival affords the populace a pre-Cup chance to have a ball.

The link between samba and football represents a fundamental pillar of Brazil's cultural identity. Samba has its roots in the African slave trade going back much further in time than football.

Mass appeal
But both became mass phenomena in the 1930s as Brazil's main southeastern cities of Rio and Sao Paulo underwent industrialisation. Both became a magnet for black former slaves from the plantations and their descendants seeking paid work.

It was during this period that Rio's black working class founded the samba schools, which today organise Carnival in its current form.

Football, meanwhile, started out as the amateur preserve of well-off white people and only slowly did the sport open its doors. "Football, samba and Malandro (a rascal or scoundrel) made up the cultural basis of Brazil's popular classes," says academic Antonio Jorge Soares, co-author of "The Invention of Football Countries."

"The prestige of popular music and Brazil's World Cup victories acted as a kind of counterweight to the deep discredit into which political institutions had fallen," adds historian Bernardo Borges Buarque de Hollanda.

Bread and circuses
The political class was not slow to pick up on both popular passions as a way of offering the masses a distraction, like the "bread and circuses" of a Roman emperor.

The populist regime of Getulio Vargas accelerated the professionalisation of football during the 1930s. That was "a means of attracting the support of athletes and the popular classes" by having them "believe there existed a kind of racial democracy in Brazil," Marcos Guterman wrote in his book "Football Explains Brazil."

The Vargas regime, inspired by the Italian model of fascism, also decreed that "samba enredos," or song form samba for Carnival parades, should exalt Brazil's history and national values. Each victory of the Pele-inspired Selecao national soccer side at the 1970 World Cup was similarly hailed as Brazil sought to prove to itself the giant nation's potential.

Afro-Brazilian samba
The English may have invented football and the prototype dribble.

Yet legends abound, most emanating from Brazil's black community, on how the Selecao elevated the skill to a fine art, using all kinds of tricks and feints to glide past the most dogged opponent.

"In football, as in politics, a feature of the Brazilian racial blend is a taste for bending the rules, an element of surprise or frills calling to mind dance steps and Capoeira," the martial art which borrows from dancing, Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre suggested as early as the 1940s.

Mario Filho, author of "The Black In Brazilian Football," explains that in the 1920s and 1930s referees would not call fouls by white players on black rivals but did if the fouling boot was on the other foot. Black players therefore had to develop the skill of avoiding contact.

"Son, I was afraid of playing football because I had often seen a black player get struck on the pitch for committing a foul," recalled Domingos da Guia, a 1930s international.

"But I was a very good dancer and that helped me on the pitch. I invented the short dribble by imitating the Muidinho, a form of samba."

From Elza Soares, via Jorge Ben Jor to Wilson Simonal, countless Brazilian artists have paid lyrical homage to football-samba. Perhaps the most famous example was composed after Brazil won their maiden world title in Sweden in 1958.

"The World Cup is ours; nobody can do anything to stop the Brazilian...The Brazilian has shown off true football abroad; he has won the World Cup dancing the samba with the ball at his feet."

What Brazil means to football
* Brazil is the most decorated national football team in the history of the World Cup, with five championships: 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002.

* It looks like Brazil put the ‘B' in the beautiful game. The ‘Samba boys' play very skilful, creative, free-flowing, fast-paced brand of football. Because Brazilians are often not as big and physically strong as Europeans, technical ability is their key to the world.

* From Pele to Neymar, the country has produced more than 50 years' worth of great players. Brazil's unique style of play was epitomised by some of the greats that wore the yellow jersey.

* Pelé, arguably the greatest footballer ever, led Brazil to three of those world championships. His control of the football has been the stuff of folklore, and is largely credited with putting Brazil on top of world football.

* Over 10,000 Brazilians play professionally all over the world. A report earlier this year stated that Brazil is the biggest exporter of football talent.

* Of the 12,309 international transfers registered worldwide last year, 13 per cent, or 1,558, involved Brazilian players.

* Brazil's colourful and passionate fans often get the football party started.

* Though football continues to be the biggest sport with possibly the most partisan sports crowds in the world, Brazil is one team that holds a universal charm. They have the most number of neutral fans.

What football means to Brazil
* Football or Futebol was introduced in Brazil close to 120 years ago, and during this time nothing else has had a deeper cultural impact than the beautiful game in the Latin American nation. The Brazilians often refer to their country as "o País do Futebol" (the country of football)

* Riddled with poverty and struggling for development, football is the easiest form of pleasure and past time for the Brazilians. Former World Cup winner Leonardo once said, "Brazil very early recognised football in our future and tradition and as an opportunity to communicate to the world that Brazil is a powerful nation."

* Although there is no accurate trace of why football became so big in Brazil, noted Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre wrote, "The Brazilians play football as if it were a dance…for [they] tend to reduce everything to dance, work and play alike."

* When the side lost the 1950 World Cup in decisive final group stage match to Uruguay at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro (the venue of the 2014 final also), it was treated akin to a national disaster. The loss was called ‘Maracanzo' or ‘The Maracana Blow'.

* The game is played in every possible nook and corner of the country. In the favelas (slums within urban areas), people who can't afford a ball roll up socks and use it as a replacement on the rough, stony terrains.

* Many of Brazil's talents emerge from the dangerous favelas where drug trade is rampant, and many lives have been lost in gang wars. Football acts as an equaliser

* Football is also a favourite activity on the 7491 km-long coastline. The default 11 a side format on the beach is improvised on to accommodate more players
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