Review – Shocking Brazil

Through the ITV commentary box at the World Cup, hundreds of fizzy drink and crisp adverts and episodes of The Simpsons, our stereotype of Brazilian football fans is that of young men, in the peak of physical health, with no jobs or responsibilities, spending all day everyday kicking footballs up and down Copacabana beach, demonstrating flair and tricks that the world adore.

Ask any fair weather part-time World Cup fan who they think will win a World Cup and they’re likely to suggest Brazil; such is the enduring legacy that the national team and their instantly recognisable yellow jersey has left behind.

However, unsurprisingly, there are a many number of issues, misconceptions and downright lies in this view of Brazilian football (it turns out that no one any good actually plays on the beach! Brazil’s stars have futsal to thank for that). Most of these are outlined by Fernando Duarte in his latest book, Shocking Brazil: Six Games that Shook the World Cup, which provides a fascinating, in depth look at Brazilian society, history, politics, and most importantly of all, their national sport. The book offers a brand new way to admire Brazilian football by focussing on six World Cups that didn’t end in a trophy, but instead caused seismic changes in the game – most of the time for the better.

In telling the tale, it becomes clear that the idyllic view of the game is regularly undermined by the greed of politicians, looking for both power and money, and the unfortunate amount of influence individuals like the notorious João Havelange had over the Seleção. Managers are picked due to political allegiance and discarded over flyaway comments or a superstitious belief in the past, as are many of the country’s greatest players. Duarte is a brilliant storyteller and has insight and anecdotes that you will not have read anywhere else, giving Shocking Brazil the feel of a book that really is giving the reader the entire picture about chaotic days such as the World Cup final in 1998.

Any England fan reading Shocking Brazil may read with disgust that reaching World Cup finals and semi-finals are deemed “failures” by Fernando Duarte, but the fact that they are, and the changes they inflicted, demonstrate that Brazilians actually do suffer a lack of confidence in the 21st century about how they should be represented on the international stage, whether they produce top class players anymore (Neymar being the exception) and there is a constant fear of being left behind by the European nations – although they never want to think of themselves as playing like any national team on the continent.

Although many books are being touted as the perfect World Cup revision book for the summer, Shocking Brazil by Fernando Duarte gives an insight that is completely unmatched. It offers a comprehensive history of the Brazilian national team, and the Brazilian society which formed it, and Duarte’s love of the game and enthusiasm means that match reports from games decades old still have a raw excitement and edge on the page.

Shocking Brazil is extremely revealing and anyone watching the Seleção this summer after reading the book will see with new eyes the pressure and legacy they play under.

The Author

Callum Farrell

A History graduate from the University of Westminster, where I am the sports editor for the QH newspaper. I've been writing for Back Page Football for the past year and am particularly interested in the more obscure and less-frequented areas of world football.

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