WORLD CUP JUNE 14, 2010
A curious thing has happened to Brazil and Germany over the last decade: they have become each other. After losing the 1998 final, Brazil decided–quite consciously, some insist–that jogo bonito had to become jogo para ganhar. They eventually hired Dunga, who always did play the sort of strong football, with some technical flair, usually seen in Munich and not in Rio. It’s been a long time since Brazil has had a truly magical player. Ronaldo could certainly be amazing. I once asked Rafael Márquez what it was like to try to defend against Ronaldo in his prime. “Like trying to guess which way a cheetah is going to go,” was his (unexpectedly) lyrical answer. But that was then: no one has tried to claim Ronaldo’s throne. Luis Fabiano reminds me much more of, yes, a German striker. His moves could be those of Bierhoff and even Klinsmann. All that is left of that Brazilian magic is Robinho (really?) and Kaka, whose pretty boy looks and off the field piety I’ve always found annoying. No: This Brazil relies much more on the strength of those midfield maniacs, Melo and Gilberto, than on the brilliance of its forwards. We’re a long way from Romario.
Now think of Germany. Just for a moment, imagine Ozil and Marin with a yellow jersey. Even Podolski. Granted: The shirt would feel awkward. Podolski, the great German brain, would need a few days in Copacabana to even look the part. But the image still works because Germany–at least the German side which dismantled a pathetic Australia–plays much closer to the Brazilian ideal than the actual Verdeamarelha. Amazingly, Germany has transformed its football from the almost military style played by Rummenigge, Brehme and the like to something that resembles Latin flare. Like France in ’98, the Mannschaft feeds from the country’s diversity. Against Australia, Germany played footballers of Tunisian, Polish, Spanish, Brazilian and Bosnian origins. The new German melting-pot works. It not only works; it works with almost Brazilian beauty. And that, my friends, is (in my very limited and probably wrong German) schönes spiel.