The Maracanazo? Ask granddad, modern Brazilians tell Mauricio Savarese...
For many Brazilians the 1950 Maracanazo was the biggest defeat in World Cup history. After all, the hosts only needed a draw in front of 200,000 of their fans to lift the Jules Rimet for the first time; losing instead gave glory to Uruguay.
That game fostered in Brazilians a sensation that things would always fall apart in the end; it's a huge part of what's known as “the stray dog syndrome.” And it made for a rivalry with Uruguay that, some say, will never die.
Well, many Brazilians, especially the younger generation, will disagree. And they are willing to show it on Thursday at the Arena Corinthians, where England and Uruguay play for survival in the tournament.
The main reason for this Brazil-Uruguay connection is the clubs. São Paulo FC fans, who will attend the match against England, love defender Diego Lugano (although he won’t play due to injury). Corinthians fans want to see their new signing from Botafogo, Nicolas Lodeiro. Many Uruguayans were stars in Brazil: men like Loco Abreu, Pedro Rocha, Dario Pereira, Hugo de León and others symbolise hard work and spirit.
“Of course I will go for Uruguay. Who cares about the Maracanazo these days?,” says Diego Raffer, 27. “I don’t even know what it was like to lose in the 1982 World Cup: my worst experience with Brazil is losing the final to France in 1998. I am going with Brazil, but if Uruguay wins again I won’t be upset at all.” In 2010, when Brazil were eliminated by Holland in the quarter-finals, he and others went to an Uruguayan restaurant to cheer with the neighbours.
"How could I not go for Uruguay?"
Pedro Silva, 33, loves Uruguay for the same reasons he dislikes Brazil. “It is a country of three million people, they are hard to beat. They are not the most skilled, but they give it all on the pitch and any football fan respects that,” he says. “Brazil are a bunch of spoiled kids. They haven’t played any beautiful football, it is only hard work. Neymar can be special, but the others are just average players. England is even worse: they have nobody. How could I not go for Uruguay?”
Uruguayans are so loved in Brazilian football that they are often spared from the nickname gringo. Foreigners living in Brazil don't like that word, and rightly so: it puts British, French, Japanese and Argentinians together under one umbrella, as if they had come from some kind of modern Pangea. It distances non-Brazilians from the local population and is one more obstacle for foreigners to overcome in order to integrate into Brazilian society.
Well, not Uruguayans. When Brazilians have one of them in their team, they aren't gringos: they are the ultimate representatives of garra charrua - guts. Since the Brazilian championship sends its best talents to Europe at a young age, signing talented or hardworking Uruguayans is one of the ways to hold a reasonable level at local clubs. Unlike glamorous imports in the 1970s, today’s Brazil-charruas are basically defenders and midfielders.
Older fans find it strange. “When my son bought an Uruguay kit I found it bizarre, but I took it as a part of a collection,” says Valter Miura, 53, about his São Paulo FC-supporting son Hugo, 27. “England will have a massive crowd against them; these Brazilians who support Uruguay can be very hardcore. They don’t care about the Maracanazo, that is something only affecting my generation, just like the tragedy of the Sarriá stadium in 1982,” he says.
If Brazil and Uruguay play, no doubt there will be more support for the locals, but there will still be some young rebels wearing Celeste jerseys, just like in the most recent Copa Americas. They are not ashamed at all, since it's hard to find hardcore Brazil supporters; Brazilians are much more interested in their clubs, and they take those loyalties into the Uruguay crush they feel at every major tournament.
The England fans don’t seem to know it. “People in São Paulo will be all for us, they know we can take Uruguay out,” says David Cole, 24, in a bar. “We are their best chance of a Maracanazo never happening again. England will need that support and I am sure it's a great chance we will enjoy to qualify to the next round,” he says. Not very far away, a group of Brazilians includes fans of Barcelona, Argentina and… Uruguay.