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We call it soccer, they call it football. Brazil's enthusiasm for their national sport rivals anything you'd see here in the National Football League. Writer Doug Lansky braved a soccer match in Rio and sent me back this post card.

Postcard: Futebol

by Doug Lansky (5/18/2001)

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Dear Rudy,

Despite what you may have seen on TV, Brazil's national sport is not cavorting around the beach in swimsuits with less surface area than the latest mobile phone. That's the second most popular sport.

Number one is still soccer. Or, as the sport is called here in Brazil, "Futebol."

I got into a pick-up game of barefoot futebol on Copacabana beach, hoping to prove that the US can do more than just design shoes for the Brazilian players. Although, in the end, that's about all I achieved.

Afterward, I to pick up my spirits, I thought I'd watch a game at the Maracana stadium, the world's largest. During the World Cup in 1950, they packed 200,000 screaming, jumping, samba-dancing fans into this arena. At the match I attended, a tournament final, there were about 60,000 fanatics, and the stadium looked nearly empty.

Except where I was sitting.

On the advice of Evandro, the English-speaking taxi driver who brought me to the game and then decided to park his cab and join me, I opted to support the team from Rio called "Vasco da Gama" and bought a Vasco T-shirt to show my complete allegiance to the Vasco team, plus the team's washing detergent sponsor that had a huge logo on my chest.

We bought tickets for Vasco's most vocal cheering section. My seat cost 6 dollars. The shirt was 3 bucks. The drinks were 50 cents. These are the sort of prices that actually make you want to go to a game - not just build a new stadium.

On the way to our seats, one supporter spotted my new shirt and exclaimed "Vasco Sempre!" (Vasco Forever!). "Fempre!" I returned, because that's what I thought he said. I got a hearty slap on the back and he wandered off.

My guide book went on and on about how Brazilian futebol was so "acrobatic" and I almost expected to see Olympic gymnasts doing a floor routine with a ball.

The level of play was impressive during Vasco's 2-1 defeat, make no mistake. But perhaps the book was referring to the acrobatic players from Brazil's famous national team, many of whom are currently pursuing bigger paychecks in Europeans leagues.

Still, the game was well worth attending. Not necessarily for the action on the field, but in the stands.

It felt like a samba-flea market. My section was beating drums, jumping out of their seats, lighting emergency flairs, dancing, waving banners, chatting, yelling at the ref, yelling at the other team. I was going along with as much as I could, making a rather sad attempt at samba, even yelling in Portuguese, although to be honest, I was lip-syncing most of it.

There were about 20 times the number of vendors you'd see at typical American sporting event. Beside the peanuts, hot dogs, ice cream and Coca-cola products there were about 10 I'd never seen before, including a donut-like creation that weighed nothing and tasted like air (I ate 15 of them and probably lost weigh from the chewing). Also popular were sunglasses with Vasco's red and black logo painted right over the eyes so you can't actually see anything. And, surprisingly, many were buying Vasco winter hats. Perfect for those rare days when the temperature in Rio dips below 60 degrees.

Speaking of which, Rudy, I think it's time to get back to the beach. Bye.

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