By Ueslei Marcelino
Most Brazilians, rich or poor, are passionate about soccer. But that’s not to say that this love of the sport permanently unites the nation – recent protests over the World Cup have made that clear.
Brazilian society still suffers from class division and there is a wide gap between the wealthy and the less well-off. It seems to me that we Brazilians are not one people, but for a short while, whenever the national team plays, we can pretend we are.
Milton Souto is poor. Agenor Netto is wealthy. I went to photograph them in their respective homes as they watched Brazil play Chile on June 28th in a round-of-16 World Cup soccer match.
Mr. Souto’s house is humble, made of wooden slats with a dirt floor. Their family vehicle is a horse cart.
They have nothing of great value. Still, a tiny, old television set on a shelf in the living room guarantees them a view of the World Cup. The small sofa they gather on to watch the match is the most coveted corner of the house.
I arrived at their home at lunchtime. On the stove were four pots with the typical food of poorer Brazilians – rice, beans, and chicken.
The youngest daughter of the family, Maria Camille, was trying to sing the National Anthem as Neymar appeared on the TV.
A little later, her scream of “goal!” emerged strongly from her chest, as if it were pressure released from a vent. But it was just a cry in celebration of the moment.
Meanwhile Mr. Souto had the face of someone preoccupied with other matters. But as I left their house he assured me, “Soccer will always be the sport of the people, my son.”
In contrast, Mr. Netto’s house is magnificent, made with the best materials, including beautiful flooring. In front of the house was parked one of their family vehicles – a Ferrari.
The house is filled with imported goods and decorated with works of art. Big TV screens with 4K technology transmitted the emotion of the match.
Waiters served cold drinks, champagne with fruit, and a huge banquet with a traditional feijoada.
I arrived well after the National Anthem, but there was a DJ playing loud music to enliven the viewers. The euphoria was greater as the drinks loosened emotions of despair and joy.
Their cries had a less preoccupied feeling. With great enthusiasm Mr. Netto said to me, “We’re going to be champions, damn it.”
Even with these socioeconomic differences, the element that makes so many Brazilians alike is the soccer ball. Many of our great stars, like Pele and Ronaldo, came from ghettos and marginal neighborhoods. And they all brought the feeling of total joy to rich and poor alike, even if just for the duration of one soccer match.
It seems that during that short time everyone forgets everything else. That’s the power of the soccer ball.