How Football Changed The Face Of Brazil Forever

By 24 February, 2024

Few countries are as intertwined with a sport as Brazil is with football. If you asked a hundred people what they think of when they hear “Brazil”, 99 of them would say football. It’s impossible to imagine a world where football doesn’t exist in this great South American nation – and most Brazilians will say this sport changed the country forever. 

With that in mind, we’re going back in time to see how the relationship between Brazil and football began and why the two hit it off so well. We’ll also discover the countless ways this sport changed the nation for the better. 

Back To The Beginning: The Emergence Of Football in Brazil

The Brazilian population first got a taste of football in 1894. Brought over from Europe, it was seen by many as a “posh” sport. The locals rarely played it and it was largely played by the white, rich, elite. 

Things changed over the next few decades as the lower-class population started picking up the sport. They saw big fancy clubs playing on the weekends and began playing their own version of football on the beach. It spawned an entirely new culture in Brazil and many contribute this to the fantastic talent development the country has seen. Playing on sandy beaches with no footwear and makeshift balls forced the players to develop incredible levels of skill and ball control. It also encouraged a flair that the football world had never seen – at it wasn’t long until this got unleashed on the rest of the world. 

Fast forward 30-odd years and Vasco de Gama made a huge contribution to Brazilian football in 1923. It was the first team in Brazil to allow people from poorer communities – including black people – to play for a proper Brazilian football club. Taking on many of the talents from street and beach soccer, they roared to a championship victory and signalled a change in the hierarchy of Brazilian football. 

The 1938 World Cup: An Historic Moment For Brazilian Culture

Saying Brazil had a tumultuous relationship with race would be an understatement. As we’ve already noted, class and race divides were a huge thing at the beginning of the 20th Century. Brazil started seeing influxes of former slaves from the US make their way down south. These African-born Brazilians became some of the best footballers the country has ever seen. 

The 1938 World Cup was a key moment for African-born Brazilian soccer players as the Selecao chose Domingos and Leonidas da Silva for its squad. It was the first time black Brazilians were seen on the world stage – and boy did they impress. 

While the squad didn’t win (they ended up third) Leonidas got selected as the Player of the Tournament. It was a stunning accolade that helped shift perceptions of race in his home country. White, rich, Brazilians were cheering him on and singing his name while members of the poorer population saw him as an icon. It encouraged many young black Brazilians to take up soccer professionally. After all, if one of their own could make it on the global stage, why couldn’t they? 

Some historians believe this was one of the many moments that helped break down some of the racial tension in the country. Brazil as we know it today is a melting pot of cultures. Yes, there are still issues and class divides, but it’s a far cry from what it used to be. 

The Turning Point: 1958 World Cup Victory

Football had become bigger and bigger in Brazil, but it wasn’t the defining part of this country’s culture just yet. The turning point came in 1958 when Pele led the Brazilian national team to its first World Cup victory. Seeing a young black superstar lead a team of predominantly black Brazilians to glory sparked huge changes across the country. 

It gathered people of all races and cemented football as the national sport. From here on out, Brazilians used football as a way of identifying themselves. Participation boomed and kept on growing. The next 15 years were the best Brazil has seen in terms of success and helped build a national dynasty. 

To this day, everyone around the world associates Brazil with football – and vice versa. More importantly, it’s become a source of national pride and a way for people of all classes to connect on a personal level. It’s crazy to think that, had Pele and Brazil not won the 1958 World Cup or enjoyed such immense success, maybe the whole country of Brazil would be different. 

Modern Brazil And Its Relationship With Football

Every Brazilian that’s born today will grow up to be a football fan. That’s simply the way it works; you can’t be from this country without taking a huge interest in the sport. Everyone has their favourite local team and the emergence of legal offshore sports betting gives more fans access to live streams of football matches in Brazil and around the world. 

Speaking of the world, Brazilian football players are known everywhere. People are only able to identify Brazil on a map because there’s a player from the country playing for their favourite football team. It’s crazy how synonymous Brazil and football are – and this doesn’t look like it’ll change any time soon. 

The Brazilian national football team hasn’t won a World Cup for over 2 decades, yet they still remain one of the favourites every time a tournament rolls around. The country often turns to its football team during troubling moments as a source of relief and pride. Soccer has become embedded in Brazilian culture and everyone plays it. Looking back at how things were, it’s amazing to see a sport that used to be for the cultural elite bring so much joy to the working class. 

And that brings this article to a close. Brazil’s relationship with football has changed dramatically over the years and experts think Pele and the 1958 World Cup-winning team are largely to thank. More importantly, football has changed the country for the better. It’s made sports a more inclusive space and brought communities closer together. Brazil will always face ups and downs as a modern country, but football will always be a key source of national pride.

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