Home 1994-95 – Umbro
As a vast nation populated with tanned, barbecue-loving beach worshippers concentrated near the coast and a sparsely inhabited interior full of deadly bugs, venomous snakes and sun-crazed natives just itching to practice their new blowpipes on your soft tissue, Brazil is basically what you would get if you took Australia, welded it to the side of South America, gave everybody a gun and left a statue of Jesus in charge. Luckily many Brazilians are blessed with smouldering good looks to go alongside that fiery Latin temperament. The women in particular really are something else, best evidenced by a stroll along Rio’s Copacabana to witness bikini-clad, bronzed goddesses partake in a spot of Beach Volleyball, a sport requiring excellent hand-eye coordination and very strong wrists, even more so if you’re actually playing it. Not all this physical beauty may be entirely natural however. Brazil currently ranks a solid second in the world for cosmetic surgery procedures, drawing in the vain and narcissistic from all corners of the globe with the promise of cheap operations made possible by cost-cutting measures that are certain to raise a few eyebrows, regardless of whether that was the look you were going for. Incidentally, the only country more conceited statistically is the USA, although a quick glance around any Walmart store in America will have you wondering whether the liposuction pumps have all been flicked over to the blow setting.
If there’s one landscape image that foreigners immediately conjure up in their minds when they think of Brazil it would probably be the mighty Amazon rainforest, which is home to around 10% of the planet’s known animal species, a bewildering array of plant life and at least 80 uncontacted tribes, i.e. indigenous people groups who want nothing to do with the modern world and are generally about as approachable as a volcano full of angry wasps. Mind you, you’d probably be a bit testy too if people kept rocking up in your back garden with a few hundred of their mates, a fleet of bulldozers and a severe disinclination to leave anything upright. Deforestation remains a real hot potato of an issue for Brazilians, with opponents pointing to the devastating effect on the environment while the government on the other hand insists the logging is necessary as the country’s ever-expanding population means they need more space for things like farms, factories, hospitals and monuments dedicated to the loss of the rainforest.
Brazil’s largest city is not, as many assume, 2016 Olympic host Rio de Janeiro, nor is it the capital Brasilia (hastily built between 1956 and 1960) but rather Sao Paulo which, with a population edging towards 12 million, is also the mightiest metropolis in the entire Southern Hemisphere. Naturally that many people crammed together can’t realistically be expected to behave themselves and the city is a little rough around the edges – as well as in the middle, and in the bits between the edges and the middle – particularly the notorious Jardim Sao Luiz, a district so rife with gun crime and violence that the local police have decided to just go ahead and reclassify homicide as ‘natural causes. The city’s air quality is also decidedly shabby, with a 2013 study revealing smog poisoning to be a bigger killer annually than road accidents, AIDS and breast cancer combined. Yeah, you know a city’s tough when even the air wants you dead.
Football and Brazil go together like marmite on toast and it’s difficult to think of one without the other. Despite the massively bruised ego sustained from the 7-1 World Cup semi-final mauling by Germany in front of their own fans in 2014, the Brazilian national team remain undeniably the most successful in the history of the international game having featured in every single World Cup to date (the only country with this distinction) and walking off with the trophy a record five times. The team’s first world title came in 1958 in Sweden via a crushing 5-2 final victory over the hosts, including two goals from 17 year old upstart and future Viagra enthusiast Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as ‘Pele’, who apparently went on to be really rather good. Who knew?Further triumphs in 1962 in Chile and 1970 in Mexico made Brazil the first ever three time champions, a feat that earned them the original Jules Rimet trophy for keeps, or at least it would have had it not been stolen and melted down in 1983 after cunning thieves found that the high-spec bulletproof glass encasing it was in fact quite susceptible to the humble crowbar, which seems a bit daft, it’s like finding out Chuck Norris has a deadly peanut allergy. Anyway, the 1970 team who wrapped up that third title are still widely considered the greatest international side of all time, their brilliance encapsulated by Carlos Alberto’s screamer which rounded off a 4-1 thumping of Italy in the final. If you’ve honestly never seen this goal then I strongly advise you to nip over to Youtube right now and track it down. No, go ahead, I’ll wait until you get back. Right, seen it? Good wasn’t it? If nothing else it showcases a group of exceptional players so at ease that they might as well have been a few lads having a kickabout down the park, with Carlos Alberto being that one mate everyone has who takes it all a bit too seriously and absolutely puts his foot through the ball, only to remember there’s no net and be left with the unenviable task of retrieving said ball from some thorny monstrosity of a bush.
More recently, following a 24 year drought, a distinctly less flamboyant Brazil finally got their hands on a fourth world crown at USA 94 before adding a fifth in Japan eight years later largely thanks to the attacking exploits of Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and of course the original Ronaldo, you know the one who doesn’t randomly attend unveilings of Niall Quinn statues. Brazil have also finished as runners up on two occasions, both of which came under fairly traumatic circumstances. Ronaldo’s infamous seizure hours before the 1998 final against hosts France and subsequent ghost-like performance in the 3-0 defeat led to numerous conspiracy theories ranging from the plausible (sponsors Nike insisted he play), to the nonsensical (he was nobbled deliberately to ensure France won) to the just downright loopy (that a French team favouring the notoriously pants Stephane Guivarc’h over Thierry Henry up front was simply too tactically astute.) However, whatever the truth, the pain of Paris is but a tiny scar compared to the gaping wound left by the events of the 1950 “Maracanzo” (Maracana blow) when Uruguay inflicted a late 2-1 defeat on the hosts in front of over 200,000 fans in Rio to snatch the trophy away, a loss so painful that several locals allegedly committed suicide in the aftermath, and made doubly embarrassing by the Brazilian press, public and even state officials proclaiming themselves world champions prior to the game. Oh well, at least nothing so humiliating would ever happen to Brazil at a home World Cup again. Cough.
Brazil shirts are about as easy to obtain as you could wish for a foreign nation and therefore cheap as chips to boot, especially if you’re not fussy about the design. I am fussy however, so rather than grab any one of the near identical templates spat out by Nike since they took over the reigns from Umbro in 1996, my preference was always for something more iconic, specifically this handsome beast as worn by the triumphant 1994 World Cup squad including the likes of Romario, Dunga, Leonardo and Bebeto. The shadow pattern prominently displaying four federation logos overlapping each other gives it just a hint of 1990s excess while also being subtle enough not to ruin the overall classy vibe, while the four stars above the badge representing four World Cup victories indicates that this particular example hit the shops post USA 94.
The four-starred version did still get in on the trophy action though. In June 1995 Brazil won the Umbro Cup in England, beating the hosts 3-1 at Wembley to seal the deal. On that note; for any England fans who think the current squad is as thin as it’s ever been, just remember that this was the tournament where we handed out caps to David Unsworth, Stan Collymore, Colin Cooper and John Scales. Blimey, suddenly Phil Jones doesn’t seem quite so bad. Ok, maybe he does.
One last thing; although it’s practically unthinkable today for Brazil’s home colours to be anything other than yellow shirts with blue shorts, there was a time up until the mid fifties when the team instead played in all white, including the 1950 World Cup disaster I mentioned previously. The colour scheme was dropped after that tournament amid criticism that it lacked patriotism, giving way to the more familiar yellow shirts we know today. Ironically, when Brazil belatedly claimed their maiden World Cup victory eight years later in Stockholm they did so playing in blue so as not to clash with opponents Sweden. Having neglected to pack an away kit for the tournament, the Brazilians were forced to dispatch their kit man to a local sports shop to purchase some plain blue tops and sew on a logo. Sadly this probably still represents more thought and effort than Nike have put into most of their recent Brazil shirts.