Joga Bonito; these words (the first Portuguese I learned) inspired my desire to come to Brasil eight years ago.  The best translation to English is, “Play Beautiful”.  They are of course referring to the game of Soccer, Association Football, or Futebol, depending on where you are from.   I began playing futebol when I was seven years old, but as an American kid with parents who were not fans of the sport, I seldom followed the game at the professional level.  Leading up to the 2006 World Cup, Nike released an ad campaign with “Joga Bonito” as the slogan.   The sportswear giant’s brilliantly entertaining commercials piqued my interest and a family vacation to Europe in June 2006 transformed me from a teenager who played soccer for fun into an obsessed futebol fan.

I will never forget the night I saw Brasil thrash Japan 4-1 in the group stages of the globe’s premier sporting event.  My family was staying in a predominately Portuguese neighborhood in London, so naturally all of the restaurants and bars were packed with a sea of people clad in the famous canary-yellow color that is synonymous with the Brasilian National team.  My dad and I picked the place nearest our hotel and made our way through to the bar.  The atmosphere was overly boisterous and happy with people shouting, chanting, and singing for the entire 90 minutes and beyond; I couldn’t get enough and was hooked on the sport for life.

Despite entering each of the last two tournament as favorites and boasting a squad overflowing with world-class talent, Brasil have not made it to the final since they won their historic and unprecedented 5th World Cup Title in 2002. Brasil bowed out to runners-up France during the quarter finals in 2006, and were again eliminated by the 2nd place team (Netherlands) four years later in South Africa.  Media were quick to criticize the country’s perceived under-performance and many suggested that the team had betrayed the daring, joyful style of play always associated with their previous success, especially after 2010.  Following a triumphant 2013 Confederations Cup where the team exhibited the briefly-thought-lost swagger, Neymar and company will be desperate to redeem O Selacao’s past two tournaments and lift the Jules Rimet trophy on home soil for the first time.  

And I will be in Rio de Janeiro to watch (if god willing I can extend my six month visa until August) !  I would be lying if I said the World Cup was not a big part of me studying abroad in Brasil this semester.  As an Urban&Environmental Policy Major, however, there is no better learning lab than Rio as the city undergoes rapid transformation in preparation for this summer’s world cup and the 2016 Olympics. (More to come on that in future posts).

It is hard to believe it has already been eight days since my plane touched down in the Cidade Maravilhosa.  During that short time I have already taken in the views from Sao Corcovado, sipped my first capirinha, and of course, kicked the ball around at the famous Ipanema Beach.  I am finding the city to be breathtakingly beautiful, easily accessible, and pleasantly safe given a few precautions.  Of course it is the local people, cariocas, who make the location’s exceptional geography a truly special place.  They are patient with my steadily-improving Portuguese, and more than anything, incredibly friendly and outgoing. There is a popular saying that cariocas “work to live”, rather than “live to work”, and one cannot come to Rio without getting a sense of this.   For me “Joga Bonito”, is not exclusive to the Brasilian National Team or any other elite futebolistas who featured in Nike’s videos.  It is an extended metaphor for how the people of Brasil, and Rio in particular, go about their daily business.

Joga Bonito, meus amigos!



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