Guadalajara dances soccer samba. Mexican city embraces Brazilian World Cup team
Guadalajara, Mexico — The rhythmic drumming of feet greets us as we pass through the portal. There's still an hour to go before kickoff time, but the concrete shell of the Estadio Jalisco is already rocking to a samba beat. ``Braa-zeel! Braa-zeel!'' chant thousands of flag-waving fans here to see their national team compete for the world's most coveted sports award -- the World Cup.
Now the real samba drumming begins, echoing off the metal roof that shields us from the hot Mexican sun and lending a party atmosphere to the proceedings.
``La ola,'' the human wave, breaks loose in the upper deck. Each time it passes, all traces of Spanish red are drowned in a surf of Brazilian green and yellow.
The Brazilians have returned to this city of plazas and fountains where Pel'e and his compatriots left an indelible mark en route to winning the World Cup in 1970.
And for this American and his Mexican friends, there's nothing better than to be a Brazilian for the day.
Americans who did not grow up playing soccer may wonder at the significance of what is taking place all this month south of the border.
Each day for two weeks, boisterous crowds filled stadiums in the scattered cities where first-round games were played. That pared the original 24 teams down to 16; this week's second round cut it to 8; and now starting this weekend in a steadily increasing crescendo of excitement come the quarterfinals, the semifinals, and the final on June 29.
And the crowds in the stadiums are only a small percentage of the audience. Day after day before noon, people gather anywhere a television set can be found, frequently watching separate games on sets at opposite ends of the room.
And in the streets, children and passers-by gather around appliance stores where makeshift bleachers are set up in front of windows packed with new TV sets.
In Mexico this June, any sign of color in your clothing can be interpreted as a partisan statement. And in the caf'es and restaurants, the talk is no longer of inflation and other national issues, but of stars such as Zico of Brazil, Maradona of Argentina, and Platini of France.
Here in Mexico's second-largest city, there's no question who the local favorite is. The whole city seems to have embarked on a love affair with the Brazilian team.
Two-year-olds in restaurants parrot the cheer -- ``Braa-zeel! Braa-zeel!''
``Mexican women, they are said to love the Brazilians very much,'' says Alejandro, son of Don Victor, with whom we have come to the game.
The Brazilians, favorites to win an unprecedented fourth cup, rely as much on style as on hard work. Cheering for Brazil is like cheering for a way of life.
I feel sorry that most of my countrymen don't know the joy of draping oneself in one's country's flag -- or adopting another team to root for -- at a soccer match.
I am also an anomaly. In broken Spanish I try to explain how I grew up playing soccer on dirt fields in New York's Central Park.
``They're always amazed when they hear that I play,'' says another American attending the games.
``They want to know when soccer will catch on in the United States. I say never.''
The Brazilians, dogged this year by accusations of mismanagement, corruption, and lack of team spirit, play an uninspired first half. Free kicks go astray and attacks fizzle at the perimeter of a tough Spanish defense. The team departs at halftime to a chorus of boos.
Still, the samba beat continues with multitudes of Mexicans joining in the partisan frenzy.
A disallowed Spanish goal finally provides the spark to rouse the Brazilians. Five minutes later, the veteran Socrates knocks in an easy header past a helpless Spanish goaltender for the game's only goal.
Brazil goes on to sweep its first-round opponents, then routs Poland 4-0 in second-round action. So far the team has a perfect record and hasn't allowed a goal in four games heading into its quarterfinal test against France.
Papers report dancing in the streets in Rio de Janeiro.
And the Avenida Juarez in Guadalajara is clogged with fans yelling ``Brazil-Mexico,'' honking horns, and waving green and yellow flags out car windows.
``What if Brazil had lost?'' I ask Don Victor.
``No difference,'' he says. ``Samba still, samba always.''