There are millions of reasons to love Brazil – Sonia Braga, for sure, plus the throaty way Brazilians speak Portuguese, Brazilian music from Villa-Lobos to Tom Jobim, feijoada, Brazilian football fans, Brazilian football nicknames, and then good old joga bonito itself.
Being emotionally acknowledged as the best in the world, based on the record and the way Brazilians carry themselves on and around the field, is mostly a blessing, but this superior image can also be a burden.
Everybody wants to knock off Goliath, even a nimble and attractive one.
The Brazilians were a moving target again on Saturday as Mexico outwilled them, 2-1, in the gold medal match of the Olympic tournament. (At which point the Games ended for me, except for those highly entertaining clips of Usain Bolt. Time to get back to baseball and joga bonito of all nations.)
The Brazilians wanted this title badly, never having won the Olympic gold medal. The nation put together a squad that included three allowable over-23 players back in June and prepared hard for this tournament. But Mexico came into Wembley with the grim mission and skill that has often not traveled well from Azteca.
The only category Brazil won was nicknames, employing reserves known as Hulk (in English) and Pato (which means Duck in Portuguese.) That's what it said on the back of their classic yellow jerseys.
Those are the football names of Givanildo Vieira de Souza and Alexandre Rodrigues da Silva, opposites in physique but teammates in odd nicknames. Brazil has a long tradition of giving nicknames to its sporting heroes. (In the '80's, its star basketball gunners were Oscar and Hortencia, their given names.)
Brazil football had Pelé and Garrincha in the long-ago past, and when I started following in the early 80’s it had Sócrates
(one of his many classical given names) and Falcão (I always assumed this wavy-haired bird of prey was named for the way he soared but in fact it was his last name.)
Then there was Alemão, the Portuguese word for German, who was called that because of his light hair and complexion and also for his efficient work at midfield, or so I was told.
And who can ever forget the mainstay of the emerging Brazilian women’s teams of the 1990’s – Mariléia dos Santos, who sported the name Michael Jackson on her jersey long enough to score a reported 1574 goals. I saw her play a few times and never saw her perform the moon walk – or score, for that matter; Brazil had better players – but now she is the coordinator for women’s soccer in the Brazilian federation, having a far better middle age than her male namesake.
On Saturday, Hulk came on early in the disastrous final. British broadcaster Arlo White said it was pretty apparent why he got his name – the man’s shoulders and chest swelled out his No. 12 jersey. (His father was said to be a fan of the television series, and the son wound up having large pecs.) The Hulkster was mostly ineffective until extra time when he scored a goal and nearly set up the tying goal.
Another sub was Pato, who does not waddle or quack, but does come from the town of Pato Branco, which means White Duck.
With their wonderful nicknames, the Brazilians now must prepare for the 2014 World Cup, when they will be hosts and once-and-future favorites as well as beloved symbols of the world’s game. That’s not a burden, is it?
Have I forgotten any epic Brazilian nicknames?
(NB: In my earlier version, I called Pato's home town Prato Branco, which would mean White Plate. He's from Pato Branco, of course. My fault. One of the flaws of Underwear Guys filing precious little essays untouched by human or even editor hands. GV)
has filed an interview with, of all people, me.
It's on his blog. (Just past photo of rat!) My thanks for his interest. GV
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see: