Shaninho and the giant Jesus

A-League utility Shannon Cole takes Australian FourFourTwo readers on a 21-year odyssey from Brazil-obsessed school kid to football pro in the 'promised land' on the eve of the 2014 World Cup. In part one he shares his thoughts during the long flight to Salvador.

June 9th 2014.

After three fantastic weeks with our American family, my wife Jackie and I have shoved our most colourful and festive clothes into a suitcase and headed for the promised land, Brazil. A place I always felt I would visit.

My obsession with the land of the giant Jesus began when I was eight  years old.

Brazil’s sworn enemy, Argentina, visited Australian shores to play off for a spot at USA 94.

Not coming from a religiously footballing family, (though my dad always loved to watch) this was my first exposure to the game on such a grand scale.

With Maradona’s Argentines leaving mine and so many Australian hearts broken, all I could talk about was ‘soccer’.

In school we were painting wooden spoons as Christmas gifts for members of our family. I dedicated my artwork to the greatest game I had ever witnessed and painted my wooden spoons yellow and green, blue and white. I gave them to my rugby league devout Pop whom I’d been telling about the game I’d seen.

In return for Christmas he bought me a hype-up video for the 1994 World Cup. I watched the video at least once a week, even during cricket season.

Much of it was a recap of the drama that took place at Italia ’90. The talking points I remember most clearly: a diving Jurgen Klinsman (interestingly now coaching USA in Brazil), and Italy’s scoring sensation Squilaci, whose name I would shout every time I ripped a volley into the trees of our front yard.

The second half of the video was focused heavily on Brazil’s qualification for the tournament.

I will never forget Romario rounding the keeper to open the scoring then leaping high at the back post to head through the keeper’s legs and clinch Brazil’s qualification.

The passion of their fans was unlike anything I’d ever seen. I’d been to Balmain Tiger’s games week in week out since I was old enough to remember. I loved it but never had I seen people so desperately in love with a game that their life seemed to depend on it. I was already madly in love with the game of football, but I was quickly developing a serious crush on the Brazilian national team.

With no Australia at the tournament I followed every Brazilian player and felt compelled by their style of football. Quick passing, plenty of movement and the compulsory touch of Brazilian flair that people all around the world had been drawn to for decades.

When I played my own games, in every attack I believed I was Bebeto and Romario. I was ruthless in the tackle and I’m sure my young team mates didn’t appreciate the Dunga inspired sprays they would receive from their nine-year-old team mate. Brazil would go on to win the World Cup and I would, still to this day, feel like I was part of it.

Fast forward 20 years. I’m yet to visit Brazil but the largest country in South America has become more influential on my family’s life than I had expected. My younger brother Liam having lived there with his partner Karen has written and published a World Cup guide called Gringo to Gringo. Between the two of them, Portuguese is spoken regularly and my wife and I have recently started to learn so that we can have a bit of fun with it on this trip. Meu Portuguese não é bom mas é náo mal. Staying with family and friends across four cities and watching three games over the next two weeks, including the Socceroos game against Netherlands, I’m sure my oddly intrinsic connection to Brazil will grow again.

As a footballer, my dream was to be playing at this World Cup.

I haven’t done enough to wear the green and gold at this tournament, but I am proud that I will be there in my supporter’s jersey to back my colleagues as they literally take on the World’s best.

Finalmente, Shaninho vai ao Brasil.

We'll be posting more of Shannon's experiences from suburban Salvador where the neighbourhood is full of World Cup colour.