The weight of Neymar's vital goal

The Brazilian wonderkid's goal not only ensures that his country wins, but has a deeper political impact as well.

    Defeat against Croatia could have had nasty consequences on the protesting streets of Brazil [AFP]
    Defeat against Croatia could have had nasty consequences on the protesting streets of Brazil [AFP]

    So just how historically significant will it turn out to be?

    The moment Neymar's left-foot shot from 22 metres eluded Pletikosa's outstretched hand, hit a post and trickled across the line.

    'It's only a game of football' is a line we have all heard before. Never could it be less fitting than Brazil's opening match in the 2014 World Cup.

    Defeat against Croatia could have had nasty consequences on the streets of Brazil, which had been a crazy cocktail of emotions in the hours, days and weeks building up to kick-off.

    Before I arrived in Brazil I was in no doubt of the level of opposition to the tournament. The understandable concerns over cost, the antipathy to FIFA and the uncertainty over the Government having the best interests of the people as their motivation for bringing the tournament here.

    Spending time in Rio helps one to understand the strange mix of emotions a Brazilian is going through about the hosting of this tournament.

    Brazil's underlying tension

    It was too simplistic to think months of protest on the streets of Brazil would subside and a carnival atmosphere would take over with each goal sparking a national party.

    People said that they would watch in their homes or local bars and would don the yellow and green, they would jump and scream and bite their nails, but they would not have joy. No Party. No overwhelming sense of pride. Not yet anyway.

    So just imagine how crushing defeat would have been. Imagine how incendiary.

    The clue to this came in response to victory. Where I was broadcasting in Copacabana there were thousands relieved, happy fans at the 'fanfest' but yards away sporadic protests and pockets of violence between protesters and the police.

    Helicopters (five of them) circled the beach and police cars formed barricades. Groups of police confronted those still determined to make their point about the social concerns around this World Cup. A bad result would have provided all the fuel needed to turn small fires into a blaze.

    Witness the utter relief of President Dilma Rousseff when Brazil scored. Under pressure for the tournament spending, booed at the opening ceremony, her response to goals was a huge contrast to politicians barely able to contain their indifference.

    This mattered as she knows her popularity and her future (there is an election here in October) are now in the hands of the team. Simply put, it is down to men kicking a ball around a pitch at the cost of a projected $13 billion.

    Croatia were robbed

    So what a strange role Croatia played in all of this. A talented team, I had seen how technically gifted they were when watching them play Switzerland at St Gallen in March. They were absolutely robbed by a diving Brazilian and an incompetent referee who bottled it.

    If Neymar had been sent off as he should have been for elbowing Modric, he would not have been able to score his game changing goal. How significant might that have been for this tournament's place in history? For the nation of Brazil. For FIFA.

    As things stand Brazil could go on and win this with Neymar in the thick of it. Hosting the tournament, while remaining contentious, would have given something precious to a nation whose love of football is no cliche.

    But Neymar got away with it and so did Brazil. Neymar's goal was the huge shaft of light the Brazilians craved. It is too early to say if it is the turning point in public perception, but it was vital.

    Remember the film Sliding Doors? How different a life would have been if a subway door had shut the other side of a character. Imagine if Neymar had not scored and Brazil had not won. As I type from Rio surrounded by police sirens and helicopter noise I predict it could have been very ugly.

    Maybe in many years time, films and books on the Brazil World Cup 2014 will describe Neymar's goal as having had a heavyweight effect on sport, politics and social affairs.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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