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The Boys from Brazil: Power and Grace

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Some soccer or rather football fans have divided loyalties. Consider an American who cheers for both Team USA and for Brazil. He's commentator Franklin Foer, editor of The New Republic. His enthusiasm for Brazil begins with his family background.

Mr. FRANKLIN FOER (Editor, The New Republic): My connection to Brazilian soccer dates back to the 1920s, when my great, great uncle left his Polish shtetl to become a ranch hand in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Much of his family followed him to Sao Paulo, but not my grandmother, who ended up in Washington.

It was soccer, and Brazil's radioactive yellow jerseys, that bound me to my cousins.

Brazil would have won my allegiance even without the family ties. That's because life as an American soccer fan can be a lonely business. You were constantly surrounded by thick-necked high school football coaches, narrow-minded newspaper columnists, and other yokels who denounced the game in turns as boring, Communist and un-American.

Jack Kemp, a quarterback who ran for first downs, and for president, once denounced the game as socialist on the floor of the House of Representatives.

What I love about Brazil is that its team so obliterates every argument these critics make. It's the reason that Brazil, despite winning like the New York Yankees, is the least hated juggernaut in all of sport.

To begin with the easiest charge to swat down, that the game is boring, such an assertion can only flow from the mouth of a person who has never watched Adriano post up, with his back to the goal, and turn on a ball. They haven't watched Ronaldinho's jukes, his Matrix-like ability to violate the laws of time and space while dribbling. Okay, I'm sinking into grandiloquence, but that's what Brazilian soccer does to a person.

Every soccer fan will describe the game as possessing a rhythm, pierced by the unexpected pass, the breakaway, or the cheeky shot. Watching Brazil probe a defense, accompanied by drummers in the stands hammering out a steady samba beat, the rhythmic metaphor becomes a physical reality. It's a mesmerizing spectacle.

Which brings us to the second charge against the game, that it is pedestrian, so simple that it's stupid. It is true that soccer doesn't lend itself to a manager dictating every play as happens in American football. What the game has are its own frameworks, great debates over strategy, how to balance attack and defense, where to align players on the pitch. More than that, soccer demands improvisation, Coltrane-like, where players make flash decisions about how to exploit defenses and open up space on the pitch. It's this characteristic, this quickness of wit, which Brazil produces like rubber or timber, yielding its unmatched success.

Finally, the nationals accuse American supporters of Brazil, like me, of possessing dual loyalties, and that's a fair charge. For the record, I root hard for the U.S.A. too. But when you support Brazil, you aren't so much paying homage to a foreign country. You are worshipping the game.

INSKEEP: The comments of Frank Foer, author of How Soccer Explains the World. He's got a World Cup blog at tnr.com.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Those of you with divided loyalties, looking at other countries around the world, the Netherlands beat Serbia-Montenegro one-zip on Sunday. Mexico defeated Iran three to one. Portugal over Angola, one-zip.

You can find a World Cup schedule, results, and interactive features by going to our website, npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Franklin Foer