Pressure, odds tip heavily to Brazil in U.S. match WORLD CUP 1994

July 03, 1994|By Jere Longman | Jere Longman,New York Times News Service

LOS GATOS, Calif. -- Ana Paula Olsen was explaining the fanaticism of soccer in Brazil. Every fan has a favorite player. And every fan has a favorite player's favorite body part.

"The television cameras will stop people on the street, and they will say, 'I like Dunga's legs and Rai's butt,' " said Olsen, a native of Brazil who owns a bikini shop in this Silicon Valley town, where Brazil's World Cup team is lodging. "It's always the legs and the butt."

Given this consuming passion, what would happen to the coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, if Brazil somehow lost to the upstart Americans on the Fourth of July?

"If they lose, he should stay here, move to Utah," Olsen said. "Or maybe to Nepal."

Brazil should not lose to the Americans tomorrow at Stanford Stadium. Brazil has won three World Cup titles; until they beat Colombia, the Americans had won three World Cup games. Brazil has every advantage: speed, skill, experience, technical superiority. Brazil vs. the United States in soccer should be the same as the United States vs. Albania in basketball. A runaway.

Except for one thing.

Brazil has not won the World Cup in 24 years. People are getting edgy. A 1-1 draw on Wednesday with Sweden was denounced as a "tragedy" by the Brazilian news media. Anxiety has broken out like a national rash. It's not because the Brazilians are afraid of the Americans. It is just that, in Brazil, there are only two results: stylish victory and panic.

"We have not won in five World Cups; the sixth we have to," said Zetti, a reserve goalkeeper. "But when you have that much pressure and expectation, it can be a minus instead of a plus."

It is said that there are 150 million coaches in Brazil, each certain of what is best for the national soccer team. All 150 million are giving Parreira advice, whether he wants it or not. Brazilian President Itamar Franco has offered suggested lineup changes. Even Parreira's own mother said she would like to see Ronaldo, the 17-year-old sensation.

And this is a team that has yet to lose.

It is estimated that 93 percent of all Brazilians will watch some portion of the World Cup. Soccer is a galvanizing diversion for a country rent in recent years by the impeachment of its president, galloping inflation, the killing of street children and the yawning gulf in income distribution between the richest and poorest citizens.

Brazil's most charismatic sports hero, the champion race driver Ayrton Senna, died in a crash two months ago. Now the entire country looks to soccer for reassurance and regeneration.

"Second place is a national tragedy," said Bianchi.

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