International “Friendly.” Colombia 1 - Brazil 1
14 November 2012, 8 pm. MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford NJ
While not a domestic club rivalry, the recent ‘friendly’ match between the national teams of Colombia and Brazil took place at a fascinating juncture for both teams. Brazil, being Brazil, were tasked with both exercising the demons of the last time they played in the NYC area— a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to arch rivals Argentina in June— as well as building a squad of potential World Cup winners to satisfy the legendarily critical domestic audience on the road to hosting the 2014 World Cup. Colombia, on the other hand, was playing their first friendly match in NYC for years and was eager to demonstrate its soccer resurgence to the heavily Colombian crowd.
Perhaps as a result of public transportation issues still affecting the region following hurricane Sandy in addition to the freezing November temperatures, MetLife Stadium’s attendance for the night only hit 39,000. Still, the Colombian supporters section rocked with every touch, pass, and shot for 90 minutes and dwarfed the noise of the outnumbered Brazilian fans at the match. Aided with smuggled into-the-stadium vuvuzelas, drums, and guacharacas, the multi-generational Colombian fans, many of whom made the pilgrimage to the stadium from Queens, relished the opportunity to cheer on their idols Falcao, James, Yepes, Guarín, and the others that comprise South America’s hottest and the world’s currently 8th ranked team.
“Following la seleccion was one of the earliest ways I began to learn about and celebrate my Colombian identity,” said journalist and Colombia fan Monika Fabian. “So attending local friendlies are—and always have been—an extension of that pride. Take my mother, for instance, she’d never say “let’s go see la seleccion.” She’d say “let’s go receive la seleccion.” Just like you’d receive, or host, relatives. Because that’s kind of what they are as a symbol from home. And to root for Colombia at the stadium is to push the country forward chant by chant.”
On the pitch, Fiorentina midfielder Juan Guillermo Cuadrado struck first for Colombia right before the break. This was followed by an outstanding individual effort by Neymar to tie it up for Brazil in the 64th minute. With ten minutes left, Neymar had the seemingly-assured opportunity to complete his brace and win it for a Brazilian squad playing in their landmark 1,000th match. Instead, the talented forward hit one of the very worst penalty kicks ever and sent the ball far into the upper decks much to the relief and enjoyment of the Colombian fans. In the last ten minutes Colombia pressed forward, with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos even tweeting encouragement to Los Cafeteros, to no avail.
The glaring Neymar miss and ensuing 1-1 result left the Colombian fans energized and enjoying the party atmosphere in the parking lot following the match. Most viewed the 1-1 draw over mighty Brazil as a de facto victory. For the dejected Brazil supporters, the opposite seemed true.
Just a week after the match, Brazilian coach Mano Menezes was sacked by the Brazilian Football Federation as they try to do everything they can to ensure a Cup win on home soil in an attempt to vanquish the longstanding ghosts of the 1950 Maracanazo. Anything less than triumphantly hoisting the World Cup at the Maracanã in 2014 would not only be a failure, but a pronounced crisis of national identity.