Brazilian Cup Final - Into the Crocodile's Mouth

Last updated : 25 May 2002 By The Informer

Brazilian Cup Final: Into the Crocodile's Mouth

Corinthians shade it
Corinthians shade it - just
Recently founded local third division upstarts take on the big boys in the Cup Final. The winners will qualify for the Copa Libertadores, Latin America's equivalent of the Champions' League. The minnows lose the first leg in São Paulo 2-1 due to one or two crucial refereeing mistakes. National uproar ensues. It's obvious who you'd support in the second leg, isn't it?

Well, no; the underdogs didn't get my vote.

Brasiliense, the "yellows", were founded in August 2000 by then Senator Luis Estevão. Their stadium is the Boca do Jacaré, or Crocodile's Mouth, in Taguatinga, just outside the capital Brasília.

Estevão later became the first and only Senator ever to have his mandate removed. He lied to Congress, obstructed investigations and intimidated witnesses over the $75m he embezzled from a public works contract. Brazilian justice being what it is, he still walks free. With a fortune estimated at over $400m, he can afford to spend $200,000 on his daughter's birthday party.

Corinthians, on the other hand, are one of the biggest and most popular clubs in Brazilian football. They were founded in 1910, inspired by the famous English Corinthians Casuals side, who toured Brazil around then. Apart from their success in the first FIFA World Club Championship two years ago, they haven't made much of an impact internationally.

Their best performance in the Libertadores was a semi-final defeat on penalties in the same year to their main SP rivals, the green-clad "pigs" of Palmeiras. Remedying this lack of success abroad is their main aim.

The Timão (big team) has the largest support in São Paulo, which currently dominates Brazilian football. Only one player from Rio - Ronaldo - was picked for the World Cup squad. Not one Rio team made the last four of the recent Rio/SP interstate tourney. Corinthians is the second best supported team in the country, after Rio's Flamengo. Who, coincidentally, eliminated from all the major competitions, have loaned out a whole bunch of players to Brasiliense!!

Corinthians have played four final matches in the past two weeks, over two two-legged ties. They embark on another round of semis in the SP state championships this week. They won the Rio/SP final on the Sunday, and travelled for on Monday for the Cup Final on Wednesday, just getting on with it though flu affected the squad.

Come on then!
Come on then!
Brasiliense's attitude was rather different. Estevão's squeals of anguish were such that Carlos Eugênio Simon, the ref for the first leg of the final, has been relieved of domestic match duties till after the summer. Notwithstanding the fact that he is Brazil's best ref and the only one appointed by FIFA for the World Cup finals. Shades of Hugh Dallas.

Estevão called Simon a "barefaced thief", a "shameless bandit", a "sneaky rogue", and a "brass-necked, dishonest, cynical cretin". And that's only the respectable translations which are available in my family dictionary - again, sounds strangely familiar!

We've seen this all before. The real target of Estevão's tirades wasn't Simon, but the ref for the second leg. It's called inTIMidation. But it didn't stop there. Estevão refused to send tickets to São Paulo, even though Brasiliense's ground has a 32,000 capacity and Corinthians could fill it easily.

Estevão uses his ill-gotten gains to bus people in to augment the Brasiliense "support". They are draped in nasty home-made strips (with the team's name often spelt differently) and grotty headbands printed "Yellow Fever". Appropriately enough, we had an outbreak here in the capital last year. This year, dengue fever is more fashionable.

Nonetheless, Corinthians still sent him 3,500 tickets for his mercenary "fans" for the first leg. Limited tickets on sale in Brasília to Corinthians supporters for the second leg were officially priced at double the rate for home fans. And Corinthians were refused permission to train before the game at the Boca do Jacaré. Notification of "work on the turf" was sent to their hotel in Brasília after their arrival. Meanwhile, Brasiliense trained as normal at the stadium.

Brazilian friends and colleagues, wound up by the propaganda ceaselessly churned out by the local media, were supporting a team they had never heard of a year ago, and which didn't even exist two years past. But sometimes small isn't beautiful. So I donned my white Corinthians shirt to accompany them, even though we'd been told I wouldn't be admitted with it on. Somehow all the Corinthians tickets had supposedly sold out - even before they were officially on sale...

And indeed I was advised to change my shirt at the turnstile, "for my own security". I thus had to suffer the ignominy of pulling a Brazil strip over my Corinthians top and joining the yellow mob. It was sheer torture. A yellow git next to me even poured me some of his beer, obliging me to respond with offers of fags. It later transpired that my Corinthians top was visible through the Brazil strip. But at least I got a terrific view of a marvellous away support who drummed, chanted, waved arms, flags, and balloons, and did the bouncy all through the match.

Brasiliense started well with the strong organisation, marking and spirit which served them well in the first leg. In the first half Corinthians made little impression. A long range thunderbolt from Vampeta of the World Cup squad, tipped onto the bar by the keeper, was their only real chance. As the half drew to a close, it seemed Corinthians had weathered the storm and had begun to balance the game. But just on 45 minutes, Brasiliense scored direct from a free kick just on the "D", very similar to Baz's against the Tims.

The yellow git hugged me. Grimacing a rictus smile, I patted him on his protruding belly, gingerly distancing his unwashed form. Half-time - 1-0, Brasiliense were ahead on away goals, and I was looking at a very difficult second half, not to mention the next day's nonstop slagging at the office.

Corinthians almost always seem to come back strongly after half-time bollockings from manager Parreira. But this time Brasiliense kept it up at the beginning of the second period. Eventually, however, Corinthians began to hit fast on the break, and equalised after 20 minutes. A deep cross from the left found the head of Deivid. Goliath was back!

I assumed a concerned, silent expression, muttered to myself and gazed at the celebrating fans opposite. For the next ten minutes the Timão played like the best team in Brazil they currently are, pinging the ball about on the edge of the Brasiliense box, threatening at any moment.

Why does it always rain on me?
Why does it always rain on me?
But then old Parreira reasserted himself - remember his USA World Cup-winning defensive scheme? - and Corinthians simply closed up at the back. Even so, sitters went begging on both sides. I had to cover my face with my hands as I laughed out loud when Brasiliense's scorer and top marksman fluffed one from four yards.

Full time, 1-1, and Corinthians were presented with the Cup (a glass monstrosity which had been broken on the plane on the trip up) in front of the main centre stand. Brasiliense "fans" pelted them with cans. Meanwhile, hundreds of shield-wielding riot police congregated uselessly in front of the peacefully celebrating Corinthians support behind the goals.

The dream was over. The first third division team ever to reach the Cup Final, and the only team from the Federal District, lost narrowly and a bit unluckily. They had eliminated big names like Fluminense and Atlético of Minas on the way.

On the other hand, it always looked as if Corinthians could step up a gear when required. But Estevão had to have the last word. So as the Corinthians team celebrated with their fans, he switched off the stadium floodlights.

Never mind that. Sometimes, big is beautiful.

The Informer