Peter Goldstein

Peter Goldstein is a professor at Juniata College in Pennsylvania in the USA. He has been World Cup crazy since 1966. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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    Forgive me for being an ignorant Yank, but I'm here to sing the praises of the greatest football nation on earth. I've seen a lot on this site lately about Germany. Germany here, Germany there, Germany the resilient, the powerful, the historic, the heroic, the supreme, the godlike, Germany, Germany, explaining about Germany, theorizing about Germany, talking, talking, talking about Germany.

    But that's the point. You have to talk about Germany. You have to point out how they're really much more talented than everyone thinks, that they have the finest organization in the world, that they have the most determination, the most cohesion, the greatest singleness of purpose, the greatest professionalism. You need to analyze their successes, you need to break down their accomplishments, you need to detail their skills. You need numbers, as many as possible; you need words, as many as you can think of. You have to talk about Germany.

    But you don't have to talk about Brazil. You don't need words, you don't need numbers. You only need eyes, and a soul. Because Brazil is magic. Because Brazil is beauty. Because Brazil is rapture. Because Brazil is Leonidas, Vava, Didi, Garrincha, Jairzinho, Rivelino, Socrates, Romario. Because Brazil is Edson Arantes do Nascimento. And Ronaldo. And Rivaldo. And Ronaldinho. Because Brazil is Brazil.

    What other country could fail to make even the semifinals of the World Cup and yet earn undying admiration (1982)? What other country could win the World Cup and be derided for not winning it beautifully (1994)? What other country could make it to the Final for the third straight time and be told every day how far short they fall of greatness (1994, 1998, 2002)?

    In his latest column, Matthew Monk writes that Germany in the seventies and eighties were really as good as Brazil in the fifties and sixties, and that their numbers were even better. Maybe so. He also gives us a series of expressive adjectives to describe the Germans: "dogged, " "invincible," "unstoppable," "dominant." All very true, and very well-chosen words. But in one place, and one place only, I see a very different word: "wonder." And Matthew Monk, our Mr. Europe, our number one supporter of Germany, only uses that word to describe...Brazil. Carlos Alberto's wonder goal in 1970.

    But why stop there? Pele's wonder goal against Sweden in 1958, Garrincha's wonder run and cross for Amarildo's goal against Spain in 1962, Jairzinho's wonder goal against Czechoslovakia in 1970, Nelinho's wonder goal against Italy in 1978, Eder's wonder goal against the USSR in 1982, Josimar's two wonder goals against Northern Ireland and Poland in 1986, Branco's wonder goal against Holland in 1994, Edmilson's wonder goal against Costa Rica in 2002.

    I have seen every minute Germany has played at this World Cup. Dietmar Hamann has been excellent, Miroslav Klose has been remarkable, Michael Ballack has been superb, Oliver Kahn has been incomparable. And I would trade every minute, every second of their play for Brazil's first goal against England. There's Ronaldinho, shaggy man, taking the ball in his own half and racing right down the middle, with 1, 2, 3, 4 perfect touches with his right foot, stepping over the ball, turning Ashley Cole inside out, a touch with his left, one more with his right, and just as he gets to the top of the arc, a visionary pass to the right to Rivaldo, who, moving to his right and leaning backwards, strokes it sweetly with his left foot into the far corner. English poet John Keats, who as near as we know was not a football fan, knew all about it anyway: "A thing of beauty is a joy forever."

    Some people have said this is the worst Brazil team in ages. Well, it's better than 1990 and 1994, if you ask me, but since comparisons of that kind are fruitless, I'll just settle for what I can see. Yes, of course, I see the by and large undistinguished midfield (just what is Kleberson supposed to accomplish?), and yes, I see the mediocre defense (no worse than usual for Brazil). But I also see Ro-Ro-Ri-Ro, every one of them scoring or creating a memorable goal, or two, or four (see above). And I see a team without an Ademir, Gerson, Falcao, or Zico still committing itself thoroughly to attacking football, delivering their jogo as bonito as possible. If I may descend to statistics for a moment: in a World Cup that looks like it's heading for the second lowest goals-per-game average in history, Brazil has scored no less than 16 goals in its first 6 games, more than any team in 32 years. And I'm expected to get excited by Germany, who showed they could play head tennis against the lost-in-the-desert Saudis and got to the Final by becoming the only team in history to win three consecutive 1-0 games in a World Cup?

    But forgive me for the stats: they're meaningless. What matters is Roberto Carlos charging crazily up the left wing and Cafu up the right, Rivaldo conjuring more enchantment with one foot than anyone else can with two (or three, if they had them), Denilson dancing toward the corner flag with half the opposing team in pursuit, Ronaldinho curving an insanely inspired free kick, Ronaldo slicing between sixty-five defenders before driving home the perfect finish, and even Gilberto Silva, smooth as silk, dispossessing an unfortunate opponent and slipping the pass to yet another attacker heading upfield for yet another yellow-and-green-and-blue assault on goal.

    I just mentioned colors. Germany's traditional strip is -- what else? -- black and white. Even at their best (and if this is a lesser Brazil team, it is most assuredly a lesser German one), they fail to stir the blood. Michael Ballack is the best midfielder on display in Asia this summer, but with his sturdy body and rumbling, straight-ahead power he resembles nothing so much as a passionless, immaculate Mercedes. Miroslav Klose is high on the scoring list, but as he rattles in the goals from on high he is the precise image of a bright, stainless jetliner. And Oliver Kahn, who has had as outstanding a World Cup as any keeper in memory, seems less a man than a gigantic mobile rock, his wide square face the outward aspect of impassable granite. Can all of this compare with the life, the glow, the glory of one shining samba?

    No. It can't. I respect Germany, of course I do. I respect them as any true fan must. But on Sunday I'll be supporting Brazil, and I know the vast majority of people around the world will be doing the same. Because the bottom line is this: it is Germany we respect, but it is Brazil we love. And why do we follow this game, if not for love?



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