By Jayme Monsanto, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – World Cup fever is alive and well in Brazil. As 2010 draws nearer and the qualifying rounds gain momentum, the football nation with the most fans worldwide has a lot to be cheering about.
This next World Cup will be held in nine host cities around South Africa, a first for the continent which has long supplied players to top Latin American and European teams.
FIFA received applications from 204 national teams from all five continents, all hoping to make the final cut. Only 32 teams will claim places to play in South Africa, and the competition is heating up by the minute.
Brazil’s performance in the WC2010 South American qualifiers has been impressive. The team has won 24 points in 13 matches and sits in the top position next to Paraguay, with 24 points in 14 matches. Brazil’s last victory was on Saturday, June 6th, when they defeated Uruguay to the tune of 4-0 in Montevideo’s Centenario Stadium.
Brazil and Uruguay have arguably the biggest rivalry in South American football. It all started in 1950, when Brazil hosted the World Cup, and after a flawless campaign had to face Uruguay in the final. The match took place in the then-new Maracanã Stadium, built specifically to host World Cup matches.
200,000 Brazilians packed the venue to witness what would have been the country’s first World Cup title. Brazil only needed a draw to claim the title, and in the first half the team scored 1-0. It seemed like victory was certain, but in the second half, Uruguay reacted and scored two goals, silencing the Maracanã Stadium and giving Uruguay its second World Cup title.
The tragedy of coming so close to victory and then losing on home turf forever remains in the minds and hearts of Brazilian football fans, both for those that are old enough to remember to those who know their history.
The intense rivalry between Brazil and Uruguay remains the same even after nearly sixty years, and anyone who watched the Saturday match could feel it’s weight. The 90 minutes of ball play were pure tension and competition, filled with scoring opportunities from both teams and a lot of fouls.
Uruguay’s golden years in football took place in the first half of the twentieth century, and in recent decades the team hasn’t won any international titles. Nevertheless, every time the squad faces Brazil, the rivalry fuels fantastic performances and true team spirit. Uruguay hasn’t lost a match in their home stadium of Centenario in 5 years. Brazil meanwhile hasn’t managed to defeat them in their stadium since 1976, 33 years ago.
Both teams were in top form and had many chances at the goal, and it was the goalkeepers who made a huge difference in the match’s final score. While Brazil’s Julio César was sheer perfection, preventing the ball from touching the net when it seemed impossible, Uruguay’s Vieira failed repeatedly.
In the 11th minute, Daniel Alves unpretentiously tried for a 40 meters distance shot, and Vieira let the ball in, an amazing and no doubt embarrassing failure. In the first half, Brazilian defender Juan scored with a header, jumping higher than the Uruguayan goalkeeper.
In the second half, Brazilian striker Luis Fabiano scored in the 8th minute, entering the goal box and shooting Vieira’s right corner. Ten minutes later, a bad call by the referee resulted in the striker being expelled from the match, as the referee claimed he had faked an injury to be rewarded with a penalty shot. The striker had received a yellow card earlier in the match, and that was the end of Fabiano’s game.
In the 35th minute, Kaká suffered a foul inside the goal box and the referee called a penalty. The midfielder himself took the penalty shot and scored. Brazil then managed to hold Uruguay back and bid time until the end of the match. This was Uruguay’s biggest defeat ever inside the capital city’s Centenario Stadium.
Brazil’s next qualifier is set to take place next Wednesday, June 10th, against Paraguay. The match will be held in the Arruda Stadium, in Recife (northeast of Brazil).