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 World Cup ' 98

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They Must Play 'the Beautiful Game'

By William Gildea
Washington Post Columnist
Wednesday, June 10, 1998; Page C4

PARIS — The Brazilians, the reigning kings of soccer, know how to live. A taxi driver sped a visitor toward their World Cup headquarters east of the city, swerving to avoid being sideswiped by a yellow dump truck doing at least 80 miles per hour and, finally, slowing to enter a bucolic paradise in Lesigny, home to 8,000 French and, temporarily, about 2,000 rabid Brazilian fans and journalists. Lesigny's old order is in disarray, although the players live above the clashing nationalities, in the Chateau de la Grande Romaine, a white-walled chateau set amid 70 acres of meadow.

For now it was quiet. Instead, a neighboring town was a shambles. All the Brazilians were in Ozoir-La-Ferriere, where the team trains in the little Municipal Stadium at the end of a narrow main street of outdoor cafes, flower boxes, fruit markets and shops decorated in yellow and green to attract Brazilian customers. The traffic was bumper-to-bumper. Brazilian fans, a trumpeter and a drummer among them, jammed the small stands on the far side of the field, shouting "Dida! Dida!" as the reserve goalkeeper walked out first for practice just before 4:30 on a breezy afternoon.

The shaven-headed Ronaldo and all the other yellow shirts followed and began loosening up at midfield. They put joy into it. Each had a soccer ball that he bounced with head or foot during stretching exercises; the Brazilians can't resist tricks once they step onto a field. Coach Mario Zagallo, a great left wing on Brazil's 1958 and '62 World Cup champions alongside Pele, walked out last; the 66-year-old white-haired Zagallo, coach of Brazil's fabulous '70 champions and second in command of the '94 champions, looked now like everyone's grandfather. Casagrande, a former Brazilian standout, sat in the near-side covered stands. To hear him tell it, translated from the Portuguese, all was not as serene as it appeared.

"It's a very talented team," he said, leaning forward to speak earnestly. "But, psychologically, you never know. That's the most important thing. How will they handle the pressure? There's really a lot of stress, a lot of pressure."

Most of the players carry enlarged egos — Brazilians call them "vanities." Zagallo must be the peacemaker. Bad boys Junior Baiano and Edmundo have scrapped several times as rivals playing in Europe, and at least once leading up to this World Cup. All have an opinion about everything the team does. Last Friday, they interrupted their schedule because Nike, one of the team sponsors, wanted them to dedicate a soccer park in Paris; their bus sat in rush-hour traffic for an hour. Dunga declared that he was ready to go home to Brazil, not to Lesigny.

A Brazilian newspaper described the team as "a flock of sheep — when let loose in the field, each one wanders his own way." That's another cause of pressure. Each player wants to play it his way, and back home the fans want to see a team with flair and excitement. They were not satisfied by Brazil winning the 1994 World Cup. They are not satisfied by Brazil being favored to repeat as champion, beginning with Wednesday's tournament opener against Scotland. Brazilians want their team to play like Brazilians and, not incidentally, win like Brazilians. They want them to entertain to the samba beat, play what they call "the beautiful game."

They want the players to abandon the conservatism of four years ago, when the team under Carlos Alberto Parreira preferred a defensive strategy with occasional counterattacking. Brazilians want to see their team dancing and weaving through defenders, leaving them flat on the ground in frustration. Win with creativity. The way Pele used to play would be just fine.

What Zagallo said last week worries Brazilians: "I would rather win playing ugly football than lose playing attractive football. Efficiency in football is based on victories. Everyone wants to win and I'm no different." A Brazilian journalist wrote that Zagallo was "losing his mind," ignoring Zagallo's role in all four of Brazil's World Cups.

On this day, Brazilian photographers aimed cameras at the field of all-stars; reporters scribbled notes. There were 500 media members in all. A Brazilian television station covered the easy practice session live; the announcer, up in the top row of seats, sounded as if he were doing play-by-play of the championship game. The veteran defender Aldair was missing with a leg injury, but Zagallo worked on the rest of his defense by sending the 21-year-old Ronaldo, the so-called next Pele, and Bebeto circling wide toward the back line. Bebeto and Dunga, both 34, and Aldair and the goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel, both 32, are the senior citizens of the team.

Bebeto won American hearts when he "rocked the cradle" after scoring a goal in 1994. His wife had just given birth, and after he put the ball into the net he turned sharply, stopped and mimicked rocking a baby. Ever since, Bebeto had said he would make another World Cup team, but few believed him. While he walked off Brazil's national team in 1991 and has had his share of pouts, Bebeto is one of the more sensible Brazilian players. With Romario out, Zagallo's choice to team with Ronaldo up front, at least for now, is Bebeto.

Bebeto is happy. But most of his teammates, like the artists they are, have a concern or complaint. Stumpy left back Roberto Carlos, perhaps the best free kick artist in the World Cup, is upset because he has yet to put his renowned swerve into his shots because of a new ball being used for the World Cup. Roberto Carlos scored one of the most stunning shots ever last year with a free kick against France. The ball looked to be far wide of the net until, at the last instant, it bent inward and caught the net. Scotland had better not expect straight kicks from Roberto Carlos no matter what he says.

This will be World Cup play, and that, said Casagrande, is different from anything else. The past is prologue. Edmundo may have been complaining that he wanted to play and wanted the ball. Brazil may have looked ragged leading up to the Cup finals. But Casagrande said: "To play well in the preliminary games doesn't mean anything. Holland is playing well. Norway is playing well. Even in the early stages of the World Cup, it doesn't mean much. You can't tell what our team is really like now. After the first half of the first game you can tell a little. But you have to win seven games, and the beginning is not as important as later."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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