As the host country for the 2014 World Cup and with Rio de Janeiro having been chosen to host the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Brazil is set to have an extremely high profile in international sport in the coming years.

Brazil is a country that is keen on sports in general, although one sport has special status and has become a source of great national pride – it is, of course, football.

For decades Brazil has been a production line for prodigiously talented footballers, many of whom leave the country to spend at least part of their careers abroad. The Brazil national team, widely regarded as the finest exponents of 'the beautiful game', have won the World Cup five times - more than any other country. After victories in 1958, 1962, 1970 and 1994, the most recent triumph came in Japan and South Korea in 2002.

Maracanã Stadium
Maracanã Stadium

The Maracanã Stadium, built in Rio de Janeiro for the 1950 World Cup, is one of the largest and most famous sports venues in the world, with a capacity of almost 100,000. Now all-seater, the Maracanã used to be capable of holding even bigger crowds, the largest of which was almost 200,000 (still a world record) for the 1950 World Cup final.

Pelé (Edson Arantes do Nascimento), born in 1940 and generally regarded as the greatest footballer of the twentieth century, is very much a national hero. He scored more than 1,200 goals during his 18-year career and unforgettably illuminated the 1958 and 1970 World Cups with his sublime skills.

Among the current crop of Brazilian stars, the most famous are perhaps Kaká (Real Madrid), Ronaldinho (AC Milan), Robinho (Santos) and Ronaldo (Corinthians).

Brazil has also reached a very high standard in women's football, with the national team generally considered one of the best three in the world alongside the United States and Germany.

Volleyball is the second most popular sport in Brazil. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics the Brazilian women's team won gold in indoor volleyball while the men's team won silver. In beach volleyball the Brazilians did slightly less well, with the men's pairings picking up both silver and bronze but the women missing out on the medals.

Tennis, though a minority sport, was given a boost in the late 1990s with the success enjoyed by Gustavo Kuerten, known to all Brazilians by his nickname 'Guga'. Kuerten won sixteen international men's singles competitions, including three victories in the French Open, before retiring in 2008. Previously, the biggest Brazilian impact on the international tennis circuit had been made by Maria Ester Bueno, who won an astonishing seven ladies' singles titles at Wimbledon between 1958 and 1966.

Motor racing has grown in popularity since the late 1960s when Emerson Fittipaldi started accumulating Formula One victories. There have been a number of excellent Brazilian drivers, such as Nelson Piquet, world champion in 1981, 1983 and 1987, and Ayrton Senna, world champion in 1988, 1990 and 1991, who tragically died in a crash at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994. Brazil's most successful driver in recent years is Rubens Barrichello, who was number two to Michael Schumacher in the Ferrari team from 2000 to 2005.

Brazilians have a strong record in martial arts, with consistent success in jiu-jitsu and also judo (in which, for example, Brazilians won ten medals, including one gold, in the international 'Grand Slam' competition in 2009).

Other sports in which Brazilians have distinguished themselves include rowing, sailing, swimming and gymnastics, while the country's extensive coastline and warm climate have encouraged ever-increasing participation in relatively new sports such as surfing, windsurfing and hang-gliding.

History of Brazilian football

Englishman Charles Miller was carrying a football when he landed in Brazil at the end of the nineteenth century, hoping to create interest in the sport that was rapidly becoming popular in Britain. No one could have imagined then that the seeds of one of Brazil's national passions were about to be sown, or that a hundred years later the country's footballers would be admired worldwide for their skill.

Football spread through Brazil like wildfire and the country established itself as a footballing force in South America by the 1920s. In the 1930s fans were enthralled by the skills of Domingos da Guia, a full-back with a talent for attacking and dribbling the ball out of his own area; Leônidas da Silva, credited with having invented the bicycle kick; and Friedreich, a formidable striker who was said to have scored more than one thousand goals.

In 1950 Brazil hosted the World Cup and built the largest stadium in the world, the Maracanã. The shock defeat by Uruguay in the final showed the true intensity of the national passion: the Maracanã fell silent, then erupted into sobs. There were heart attacks, brawls and even attempted suicides. Stars from the 1950 team such as the goalkeeper Barbosa, the full-backs Pinheiro and Juvenal and the attackers Zizinho, Ademir and Jair were greatly affected by what is still referred to as a national tragedy. Another eight years would pass before the golden age of Brazilian football truly arrived.

Brazil won its first World Cup in Sweden in 1958 with a team featuring Gilmar, Djalma Santos, Bellini, Nilton Santos, Didi, Garrincha, Vavá and Zagallo - along with a breathtakingly gifted seventeen year-old who would go on to become probably the greatest footballer of the twentieth century: Pelé.

Pelé was injured early in the 1962 World Cup tournament in Chile, but Brazil, with Garrincha's dribbling skills deployed to devastating effect, had more than enough talent to win its second consecutive title.

Many football fans consider the Brazilian team that won the 1970 World Cup in Mexico - featuring Pelé, Carlos Alberto, Clodoaldo, Gerson, Jairzinho, Rivelino and Tostão - to have been the best of all time, responsible for producing some of the most famous televised moments in the history of the sport.

Over the next 20 years Brazil continued to produce fantastic players such as Sócrates, Zico, Júnior, Cerezo and Careca, but the national team failed to win the World Cup. The team that played in the 1982 tournament in Spain won countless admirers for its exhilarating attacking football but was eliminated in the second stage after a thrilling 3-2 defeat by eventual champions Italy.

Brazil's fourth World Cup victory came in the United States in 1994, the players holding their nerve in a penalty shoot-out after the final against Italy ended in a cagey and anticlimactic 0-0 draw. The team did not satisfy the nation's desire for futebol arte but was effectively marshalled by captain Dunga and spearheaded by the diminutive but potent duo of Bebeto and Romário, the latter widely considered the best striker in the world in the mid-1990s.

That mantle then passed to Ronaldo, a teenage member of the 1994 squad whose pace and finishing ability had already made him a global star by the time the 1998 World Cup in France came round. Brazil's team in that tournament was good but not exceptional, however, and a listless performance in the final against France was punished by a 3-0 defeat.

Before the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea the customary confidence of Brazil's fans was somewhat lacking, the team having struggled even to qualify for the competition. When it mattered, however, the '3 R's' of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo all clicked into gear, as did the two marauding full-backs, Cafu and Roberto Carlos. The team made steady progress to the final, where they overcame Germany 2-0 with two goals from Ronaldo.

Four years on, Brazil arrived at the 2006 World Cup in Germany as favourites, with fans worldwide looking forward to enjoying majestic attacking football from the 'magic quartet' of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaká and Adriano. It didn't work out like that: Brazil were beaten 1-0 by France in the quarter-finals without having registered a truly convincing performance in any of their games, although Ronaldo did become the record goalscorer in World Cups by taking his overall tally to fifteen. The defeat appeared to give substance to the belief, widely held in Brazil, that there is an inverse relationship between the level of expectations prior to the World Cup and the quality of the team's subsequent performances.

At the start of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, with 1990s team captain Dunga now as coach, Brazil were generally regarded as joint favourites along with Spain. They negotiated the first phase without many difficulties (beating North Korea and the Ivory Coast, and drawing with Portugal), although the performances were robust rather than flamboyant. In the first match of the knock-out phase Brazil played with greater verve, beating Chile 3-0 with the attacking skills of Kaká, Robinho and Luis Fabiano to the fore. Next they faced Holland in a quarter-final. The first half saw perhaps Brazil's best 45 minutes of football in the whole competition, the team easing into a 1-0 lead courtesy of Robinho, but when the Dutch equalised early in the second half through an own goal, Brazil fell into disarray in a wholly unexpected manner: Holland scored again, Brazil had a player sent off, and there would be no way back. For the second successive World Cup, therefore, Brazil surprisingly failed to reach the last four, although the country's disappointment was tempered by a widespread ambivalence towards the pragmatic style of play that Dunga had instilled in his team.

The fact that Brazil has achieved the status of pentacampeão, five-times winner of the most prestigious competition in the world's most popular sport, is an understandable source of national pride. The country continues to produce an extraordinary number of talented players, especially midfielders and forwards. However, the domestic game continues to be poorly administrated and most fans have little disposable income, so matches between all but the biggest clubs are usually watched by crowds that are small by European standards. Clubs lack the resources to keep their stars from pursuing most of their careers in other parts of the world, particularly Europe. Though most Brazilian fans wish it were not the case, footballing talent will remain one of the country's major exports for the forseeable future.

Related links


Website of the Brazilian Football Federation (Confederação Brasileira de Futebol - CBF). [pt]


Olé Brasil is a football academy in São Paulo state that organises international exchange programmes with young amateur players in other countries. [pt]