The ‘people’s team‘ took the South American cup last night, and the continent’s largest city promptly began setting off more fireworks than most cities in the US did for Independence Day. Our gringo Corinthiano Dom Phillips reports on what it felt like.
By Dom Phillips
The weight of expectation was becoming unbearable even hours before kick off. It was there in the Corinthians shirts that half of São Paulo seemed to be wearing, in the banners celebrating victory in a game yet to be played, in the running battle between police chucking stun bombs at rock-throwing supporters outside the stadium.
The 30 million fans of the famous São Paulo soccer team had decided a week ago that victory in the South America-wide Libertadores trophy, the continent’s equivalent of Europe’s Champions League, was theirs. Their opponents, Buenos Aires’s equally famous Boca Juniors club, were perhaps the only ones who disagreed.
In the end, two second-half goals from the Corinthians number eleven Emerson clinched it. Though it could be argued that Romarinho’s equalizer when Corinthians were trailing 1-0 to Boca in the first game in Buenos Aires was almost as crucial to their final victory – their first ever in the Libertadores.
That first goal followed a cheeky back-flip from Danilo inside the area, which Emerson seized and buried in the net with both verve and velocity. His second was a combination of luck and opportunism: the Corinthians forward stole the ball from a bad Boca pass in Argentine half, out-sped a defender, and slammed home the goal. By this point, the noise in São Paulo’s Pacaembu stadium was deafening, banners were covering half the ground, and Boca were falling to pieces.
The Argentinean team rallied a little. But it was all over. The tears, the exultation, the sense that Corinthians deserved to win a trophy they’d been chasing for decades – not to mention another firework display – were all as expected.
Firecrackers and car horns sounded all night in São Paulo. Fans screamed at each other in the street, hung outside cars blasting hip hop and carioca funk versions of the Corinthians Hymn, or stood wrapped in Corinthians flags, arms outstretched to the sky in celestial thanks. At three in the morning, Corinthians supporters continued to shout and jeer at fans of rival São Paulo FC in one upmarket neighborhood – São Paulo supporters are known as playboys, street slang for the spoiled children of the rich.
Another early hours chant was directed at another of the city’s teams – Palmeiras, who play in green, and were now dubbed ‘Guarani de Pompéia’, a reference to a small team from the interior who also play in green, and the district where Palmeiras traditionally play. Vindication over rival teams who have long taunted Corinthians for never winning the trophy was all part of this delicious victory for fans.
Emerson’s two goals were highlights in the Corinthians Libertadores campaign – because this is not a trophy the team won playing the ‘beautiful game’ that Brazil made famous. Corinthians coach Tite deserves praise for forming a cohesive team that could fight and win this trophy. But not for playing inspiring soccer.
“It was with workers’ sweat that the time arrived in the final,” said the front page of tabloid Diário de S.Paulo on the day of the game. With a picture of defender Alessandro glowering beneath a construction worker’s helmet. Corinthians’ Libertadores triumph was about their determined, organized defence – much like the victory of London’s Chelsea in Europe’s Champions League.
And Chelsea are one of the team’s that Corinthians will meet in December’s FIFA’s Club World Cup in Japan. The line of male supporters in front of me had their T-shirts ready in Corinthians black and white, with a rising sun on black, and the phrase in red: “I go, Tokyo, 6-12-12,” and they put them on when the final whistle blew. Their sense of relief at the title finally conquered was as palpable as the expectation that preceded it.
[Photo above: Corinthians fans take over the iconic Avenida Paulista late into the night]