Brazil trounced Honduras 6-0 on Wednesday to advance to the gold medal game of the 2016 Olympics, where it’ll meet storied rival Germany.
Here are five things you need to know about soccer-crazed host Brazil.
▪ Brazil has never won a gold medal in soccer: As strange as it is to read that, the perennial soccer power has fallen short in this one specific competition. It hasn’t lacked for trophies to put in the case, having won the World Cup in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1992 and 2002. It’s also won the Copa America, the hemisphere’s cup, eight times. Olympic gold? Never. It’s been the bridesmaid, winning three silvers and two bronze medals.
▪ Brazil needs a gold medal: The Olympic host is coming off a miserable run of bad luck. It hosted the World Cup in 2014 and was widely considered a favorite, until it ran into the buzz saw that was Germany. The European power thrashed the cup hosts 7-1 in what was undoubtedly the worst whipping the national team ever took. Now fast forward to the summer of 2016, shortly before the Olympics, Brazil crashed out of the Copa America, failing to even make it out of the rounds to qualify for the knockout stage. The in the first two Olympic openers, Brazil played South Africa and Iraq in scoreless draws. Only gold will leave Brazilians satisfied, and they have a chance to avenge their drubbing by Germany.
▪ It’s not just a game: Baseball is America’s pastime; the Nordic nations love to ski. From the moment Brazilians come out of the womb, it’s all about soccer, pronounced foo-chee-bowl in Portuguese. “It is in us when we’re born,” said Eduardo Gardel, who works as a therapeutic clown at hospitals in Sao Paulo. “When we are born, we’re given a soccer ball. It’s the first toy.” Whether it’s in Rio’s crumbling City of God slum, or the middle class Flamengo beach or on the sands of Copacabana’s Avenida Atlantica, a game of soccer is usually under way any time of day or night. Even volleyball is played with the feet, a skilled game called futevolei, where any part of the body can be used but arms and hands.
▪ Brazil has Maracana stadium. The site of the grand opening of the 2016 Olympics, the stadium was built, sort of, in 1950 to host the World Cup. It was not completed, however, until the mid-1960s, suggesting the slapdash rush to finish all the 2016 Olympic venues had precedent. Legend has it that when Brazil hosted the 1950 cup, which it lost to its small neighbor Uruguay, more than 200,000 were packed into the stadium and around the field. Today Maracana holds less than half that, and over the years the stadium has hosted some pretty big name musicians. Frank Sinatra sang at Maracana to mark its 30th anniversary, and Sir Paul McCartney has filled the stadium too.
▪ Brazil has the secret soccer sauce: If we told you what it is, we’d have to kill you. In the heyday of Brazilian legend Pelé in the 1960s and 1970s, it was called The Beautiful Game, a reference to the graceful dribbling and quick passing that marked the era. Today the game is far more physical, with Neymar Jr., the star of this era, breaking his back in the 2014 World Cup. It’s still an intuitive game, and Brazilians say it’s a know-how not easily shared. “It’s the Brazilian way, it can’t be passed along to others, it’s of the Brazilians,” explained Sirle Negrotti, sporting a glittery outfit of Brazilian green and yellow. “Soccer runs in our veins. It’s our national passion. Soccer is the face of Brazil.”