FFT's man in Brazil, Mauricio Savarese, on the least welcome visitor to this summer's World Cup...
“Traitor! Traitor! Traitor!” “Hey, Diego! Go f*** yourself!” “Diegoooooooo, you c***” “Booooooooooo…”
Spanish-Brazilian striker Diego Costa got off to a bumpy start in the World Cup. Not only were his team hammered 5-1 by the Netherlands on Friday, but he also received the angriest reception Brazilians have given to any local boy returning to play with another national team. The reaction of the crowd at Salvador's Arena Fonte Nova was largely anticipated by Seleção coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who wanted the Atlético Madrid targetman wearing yellow this summer. Fans in Rio de Janeiro promise even more for the Spain vs Chile clash on Wednesday.
It all started when Costa decided to play for Spain in the World Cup. Born 25 years ago in tiny Lagarto, an impoverished city in Brazil’s north-east, he played a couple of friendlies for Brazil last year, but Scolari didn’t bring take to the Confederations Cup. Having lived in Spain since 2007, Costa opted to instead play for La Furia, earning a Spanish passport in September last year.
A special affection
Despite a late visit by the Brazilian coach, who later called him to play two friendlies in the US, the dangerman said: “I looked at everything and saw that it was right and best to play for Spain because this is where I have done everything. All that I have in my life was given to me by this country. I have a special affection. Here I feel very appreciated for all that I do and I feel the love of the people.”
After Costa made his decision public, Scolari treated him as a traitor, just like the Brazilians watching the Group B face-off that ended in Spanish misery.
“Not even Mazzola, who played for Brazil in 1958 and for Italy in 1962, got such an angry reaction,” said four-time World Cup champion Mario Zagallo. “Diego was probably ready for this, but you have to admit it was a huge blow for his morale. To make it even worse he didn’t play well at all. To be a Brazilian playing for someone else in the Brazil World Cup wasn’t very wise.”
Costa isn’t the first Brazilian to go for another national team: Cacau and Paulo Rink played for Germany, Deco and Pepe went for Portugal, Marcos Senna and Donato represented Spain. “But he actually wore our shirt and decided to go for another team later,” explains fan Gustavo Keller, a 35-year-old engineer. “If he had never played for Brazil, everyone would be okay with it.”
After the match, Costa said he wasn’t bothered. Coach Vicente del Bosque pinned it all on the fact Brazilians knew Spain are a strong contender for the title. Diego’s father accused Scolari of being as much of a traitor, since the coach took Portugal to the final of Euro 2004 and the semi-finals of the 2006 World Cup. Big Phil refused to answer, but never hid his displeasure with Costa.
Danielle Elisa, a 27-year-old psychologist, says there is no comparision: “Players choose one team for life. Coaches change jobs. Besides, Scolari is with Brazil in the Brazil World Cup. He is not with Portugal.”
A senseless decision
But isn’t criticism towards Costa this vitriolic just because Spain are a strong team and he performed so well last season?
“We boo everyone we think can beat us. But we just don’t like Costa. It is the Brazil World Cup, that should speak for itself,” Elisa says. “Fred isn’t the best striker Brazil has ever had. Jô isn’t either. Costa could be playing now, but his decision was just senseless. Now it is pay-back time. Either he shuts us up with goals or he will be bullied till the end.”
Lagarto, the tiny city where Costa was born, isn’t that far from Salvador – and that’s why the anti-Diego crowd was particularly surprising. The Spanish-Brazilian’s family were in the stadium, which made every jeer sound even bolder. At the Maracanã stadium, where it will be a case of 'do or die' for Spain, Costa may expect much more.
“We have loads of Chileans here. We don’t like Spain. And Diego Costa might end the match hoping he had chosen to play for us,” says lawyer Willian Fonseca, 28. “If Diego Costa has any character, he will play the best match of his life, because everyone will really have a go at him. He is the most hated person in Brazil today and we want him out as soon as possible.”