Those of us who love Brazil know it’s heaven and hell and not much in between. Silky music, feijoada (a kind of heaven if cooked right) but also egrets wading in open sewage by the side of the road leading from Sao Paulo to the city; the kids who offer to “look after your car” in Rio, the alternative being they will really look after it.
So it was in the two halves of the Chile match. Musical moves: Neymar leaving defenders lead-booted; Fernandinho, skipping around; David Luiz getting his thigh round that ball at the goalmouth (even if it gets to be an OG); their midfield on some springy wire that pinged them back and forth on high voltage. Chile – tough, sinewy, and capable of seizing the moment as that equaliser proved. But as with many Brazilian sides their besetting sin is a kind of wounded vanity when the play goes against them. Scolari was evidently right to want to describe Chile as a “pain”. They know how to inflict it at the right moment. But that first half was so good, so fluid, so high voltage, so intense, that the players weren’t the only ones drained at the end of it. I was reaching for the Gruner Veltliner for medical help.
And then in part two, it was as if a completely alien gang were wearing the yellow shirts; or they’d fallen under the influence of some Amazonian potion. Neymar disappeared. There were so many aimless long balls that I felt I was looking at Sven-Goran Eriksson’s England. The antelopes were being outrun, out-everythinged by the snappy terriers. The Brazilian midfield melted away. It was all very very strange. The one exception was Hulk for whom magnificent is inadequate – playing as though he knew everyone else had taken the day off to go to the beach and he’d have to do it all himself. Which he very nearly did. This way and that, brilliant swerves and feints. The terrier of terriers was Alexis Sanchez – a rush of hard, savvy energy; so dangerous, so suddenly. As regular time ebbed, it was impossible not to have mixed feelings. Chile settled for playing it out, but the Pinilla shot was so powerful it deserved to find the net. Extra time – just a lot of very tired men spending a lot of energy in courting fouls (and succeeding).
You felt for the goalkeepers: both had stirring games; both at penalty time were on the firing line; both produced nails bitten to the quick heroics of impulse (even if a lot of those penalties were aimed straight at them). In the end, poor Jara only just missed that goalpost-struck shot going sidelong into the net. There were Inca faces set in tragic stone. The Forro is heaving up north. But only those of us who were taught samba for our bar mitzvah can actually believe Brazil has what it takes to win this World Cup. On the other hand, maybe Neymar can play like Tom Jobim sang and do it for the full ninety minutes.
This article first appeared on newrepublic.com