Nasty side of football in Brazil


JUST in case we needed reminding, last weekend Brazilian football once again proved its capacity for explosive controversy when a national championship game between two of the country's most prestigious sides, Vasco Da Gama and Botafogo, was interrupted for nearly half an hour following pitch invasions by coaches and directors from both teams.

For years now he have become accustomed to the schizophrenic face of Brazilian soccer. On the international stage the Brazilians are always one of the sides to attract the enthusiastic "support of neutrals and lovers of good soccer.

In every World Cup tournament half the soccer fans of the world start rooting for Brazil, the side of samba footwork and Latin flair, as the cliches would have it. Furthermore, the Brazilians have won the World Cup four times - more often than any other nation.

The other side of the Brazilian soccer coin, however, is one of domestic chaos, of a crowded fixture list including regional leagues as well as a national one and of financially ambitious (often desperate) clubs regularly at odds with a national federation (CBF) that is itself a hotbed of political in fighting.

Last Sunday the fighting was there for everyone to see on the most famous Brazilian pitch of them all, the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. The trouble started when Botafogo scored the first goal of the game from a position that looked offside.

Immediately Vasco coach Antonio Lopes jumped to his feet and charged in the direction of the referee, Jorge Travassos. In Lopes's wake, there followed a posse of officials, policemen and radio journalists.

Minutes later Enrico Miranda, a Vasco da Gama director and a member of the Brazilian Congress, also ran on to the pitch to add his voice to the Vasco protests. Only after 10 minutes of wrangling was the pitch finally cleared but even then the trouble was not over since Congress member Miranda opted to sit on the substitutes' bench rather than return to his grandstand seat.

At this point the Congressman was invited by the police to leave the touchline and another exchange of pleasantries followed, with Miranda allegedly warning the police that he enjoyed parliamentary immunity.

Miranda was elected to Congress two years ago following a campaign largely directed at Vasco Da Gama fans.

The fun and games, however, were still not over. Vasco Da Gama went on to win the match 2-1, scoring the winning goal - surprise, surprise - from a distinctly offside looking position.

Anything Vasco can do, Botafogo can do better. Following the winning goal, scored by Vasco's Edmundo, the Botafogo president Carlos Alberto Montenegro got on his running shoes and sprinted in the direction of the hapless Travassos. Once more play was delayed for five minutes as reporters, team officials and players all joined in a massive schcmozzle.

Later Botalugo president, Montenegro told reporters: "I told the referee that he was a coward and a failure."

Maybe. My modest opinions is that referee Travassos and those like him who referee high profile South American, games may have their shortcomings but can hardly be accused of cowardice. Cowards would simply find something, else to do on a Sunday afternoon.

Remarkably neither club official, Miranda nor Montenegro, appears to have expressed any remorse over Sunday's happenings.

Miranda even told reporters afterwards that he had no regrets about his pitch invasion, saying: "It depends on the moment. Their goal was scandalous, a clear offside. You can't just let something like that pass."

Botafogo's Montenegro was equally unrepentant, saying: "They had five players offside."

These explosive scenes come less than a month after directors of four of Brazil's most powerful clubs met in Rio to lay plans for the formation of a super league to be run directly by them and not the CBF controlled Rio Federation. Clearly such a concept is designed to provoke only controversy.

The four clubs which intend to form the super league are Flamengo, Fluminese and, yes, you've guessed it, Botafogo and Vasco Da Gama.

Perhaps they'll write a clause into the new super league rule book allowing pitch invasions by club directors and presidents.