I watched Brazil-France with a Brazilian who had just flown here, at the bar of a packed restaurant in Little Brazil, W. 46th in New York. For more than an hour he was pure joy to be with. He strongarmed me to help him on his spaghetti with shrimp, kept paying for more CoronasHey Scolari, he called out, for the bartender had a small chevron mustache like the former-Brazil, now-Portugal coach. Every time the overweight Ronaldo touched the ball, he shouted “Gordo!” at the screen, while cheerfully and amply describing to me the national religion that is soccer in his country.
Then Zedane and Henry struck in the 57th minute and I lost a friend. My Brazilian host was gone from our world. After a couple of “oh-shit”s the whole restaurant went quiet. This was no ordinary goal, no mistakeit was a great goal, and these fans could have been dead, though they continued to gaze at the screen, hoping that Brazil might somehow give them life again. I felt guilty being there, an ambivalent interloper in a wide family tragedy.
When the end came I shook my friend’s hand and wished him safe travels in my country, then passed out into the street. Shock and gloom were everywhere. Oh FUCK!!! a tall woman in a Brasil t-shirt shouted, then tilted over keening in the curb. “We didn’t play our game,” a deathly-pale man said, sucking on a cigarette. “We never played our game, except that one day.” “Ghana,” I said. “Yes.” He shook his head over the corpse, then another man plunged past us into the street and fumbled for the fine and continuing thread that is life.
“South Africa!” he shouted.