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Paying the Duck: Take flak for other’s mistakes



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Brazil coach Dunga and left-back Dani Alves had asked for a bit of love from dissatisfied Brazilian fans who have a habit of booing their own team when things aren’t going quite as well as they’ve become accustomed.

Dani Alves & Co. Paying the duck?
Dani Alves & Co. Paying the duck?

“Pagando o pato” translated literally as “paying the duck” is when someone has to take the flak for another person’s mistakes.  This week, it’s not only the national football manager whose job is under threat.  President Dilma Rousseff is facing a potential impeachment process and the speaker of the lower house is fighting allegations of corruption.  It’s difficult to say which head will roll first.  Barcelona star thinks that his team is ‘paying the duck’ for the current political disaster.

Brazil’s relationship with their national team is more deep rooted and emotional than most but I would contest Alves’s opinion.  For many years Brazil has identified itself with its football team and has held the side up as an example of what is great about the country; a racially diverse group, playing with an unmatched flair and joie de vivre.

Through years of military dictatorship and crippling poverty the ‘Seleção’ offered an escape from the hardships of every day life.  As the country emerged from the third world and the economy grew to giant proportions the CBF (Brazilian Football Confederation) saw the potential profits in what is arguably the country’s greatest export; football, or more specifically; football players.

In the 90s they sold sponsorship rights to Nike, meaning the national team were condemned to travel the world playing showtime friendlies.  Almost all the best young players were sold off, as teenagers, to foreign clubs leading to a national side full of guys that most Brazilians have never actually seen play.

Add to this, alleged corruption schemes involving the selection of certain players and the fact that the head of the CBF will not leave the country for fear of being arrested and you have yet another national institution which the people here have no faith in.

Most Brazilians didn’t really want or need the World Cup here last year and have grown tired of being seen as the country of small bikinis and lightning quick step-overs.  The spectre of 7-1 looms large in the culture.

Even now, over a year later, it’s difficult to get through the day without hearing that scoreline being mentioned somewhere.  Brazil has fallen out of love with the national team.  There’s no shortage of love for ‘the game’, the chats in taxis, cafes and bars are still dominated by it, but ask people about Dunga’s men and most will say they’ve stopped watching Brazil.  It’s no longer fun, it’s become a ‘business’.

Brazil now avoid playing friendlies or competitive matches in the south of the country, Sao Paulo, Rio or Porto Alegre for example, because of the way the team are abused by their own fans.

Taking to the field in the North-Eastern city of Fortaleza the crowd were treated to a goal after 2 minutes after Luis Gustavo won the ball in Venezuela’s half and put Willian through on the right who powered through to unleash a powerful strike.  An international goalkeeper really should have stronger wrists but Brazil had the crowd on their side at least.

Willian added another before half-time and despite a little wobble in the second half, conceding a goal from a set piece, the home team controlled the match.  As well they should against Venezuela.  Veteran striker Ricardo Oliveira was in the right place at the right time to give Brazil a two goal cushion to stave off more critical headlines.

There’s a long way to go in this qualifying campaign and most people here still doubt their  team’s ability to make it to Russia 2018.  The only team in history to have played in all World Cups without absence or entering through the play-offs have been in a similar position before.

In 1993, after drawing with Ecuador and losing away to Bolivia (for the first time in their history) Dunga was the captain of an unpopular and unfancied team.  They qualified for USA ’94 and eventually won it to become World Champions for the fourth time.  Should Brazil make it into the final stages in 2018, people will be blowing the dust off yellow shirts up and down the country.