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Last Updated: Monday, 11 July, 2005, 08:17 GMT 09:17 UK
Final puts Brazil in the spotlight
By Tim Vickery

Cicinho in action for Brazil
Cicinho is one of Brazilian football's rising stars

For the first time in its 46 year history the Copa Libertadores, South America's Champions League, has a final between two teams from the same country.

The all-Brazilian decider between Atletico Paranaense and São Paulo should be a remarkable occasion.

But last week's first leg, a 1-1 draw was an unremarkable 90 minutes of football.

True, there were some good players on the field, such as São Paulo right back Cicinho, so impressive for Brazil in the recent Confederations Cup final.

But, apart from the odd flash of skill, what sticks in the memory is the ugliness of the spectacle.

It was a scrappy game, interrupted by 60 fouls, and a hard-line referee would have blown for more.

And when players weren't fouling, they were diving or pleading with the referee to bring out the yellow card.

The match was played in a depressing spirit of animosity and one-upmanship.

Some hold up Brazil as an example of all that is pure in football, invariably people who have had little exposure to the contemporary reality of the Brazilian game.

Perhaps a similar combination of hope and naivety lead many to believe that the 2002 election of Workers' Party candidate Lula as President would start a new era in the country's history; old corrupt carve-ups would come to an end.

Instead, Brazilian television viewers have watched stupefied as the Party finds itself engulfed in a huge corruption scandal, followed with the devotion usually given to a World Cup campaign.

Some hold up Brazil as an example of all that is pure in football - invariably people who have had little exposure to the reality of the game.

This week, PT heavyweight Tarso Genro admitted that the party had gone off the rails.

"We substituted a political programme for a new, totally artificial absolute truth - 'we are the best because we are the purest.'

"We forgot that any organism of civil society, no matter how good its intentions, always reproduces something of the average morality of the society in which it is immersed."

The same is clearly true of Brazilian football.

In a country whose income distribution is among the most unfair in the world, the import of US-style consumer culture has further emphasized the brutal division between a few haves and the vast majority of have-nots.

The consequence of this for football is clear. The end result, victory, is much more important that the means used to achieve it.

Part of the ugliness, then, is systematic.

Some coaches believe that the side that commits the most fouls has the most chance of winning.

There are plenty of sly little touches; for example, recently teams in the lead have made substitutions by having a player throw himself to the ground, awaiting assistance, and a switch which should take seconds ends up taking two minutes.

The player exodus to Europe means that the technical level of domestic football has declined.

Many of those left owe their success not to their skill, but to physical preparation and aggression.

These are the virtues that enable them to earn money and prestige which would otherwise be beyond their dreams - at least by legal means.

Last Wednesday's first leg of the Copa Libertadores final was a banal corruption of a showpiece occasion.

But football is a strong force and the values that make it great - individual and collective brilliance in the clean struggle for supremacy - are always likely to reappear.

Let's hope this Thursday's return game is better.


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12 Jul 05 |  World Football


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