Football: World Cup '94: The final analysis: Romario-ville rejoices as the carnival begins: The home of a Brazilian hero is uplifted by the recapture of a trophy that means the world to them

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The Independent Online
SO WHERE did you watch the World Cup final, then? Wherever it was, Lucy Davies, who took these photographs, had a better idea. The heat was terrible, the free beer ran out long before the kick-off, and the TV kept breaking down, but if you couldn't get a seat in the Rose Bowl then the Bar Romario in Vila da Penha was the place to be. For this was Vila da Penha's big day.

The bar's proprietor is Edevair de Souza Faria, father of Romario. Vila da Penha, a north-western suburb of Rio de Janeiro, is where Romario grew up. And the bar is his gift to his father. It was from this building, in fact, that Edevair was kidnapped a month before the World Cup, and held for a week while his captors demanded a dollars 7m ransom. Naturally enough, this was where the family and friends of Brazil's great star gathered last Sunday to watch the final. And, for one day only, the beers were on Edevair.

Actually, there were two TV sets set up in the courtyard. In front of one, Davies says, sat the men, many of whom bore a strong family resemblance to the little striker. In front of the other sat the women. Most of the men wore Brazil shirts bearing the number 11. Some of the women, however, favoured the number 10, that of the heart-throb Rai.

By the time the game started, at half past four in the afternoon, all the beer had been consumed. Some of the younger people were launching balao - little balloons carrying firecrackers, which ascend silently before exploding in mid-air.

Romario was born not here but in Jacarezinho, one of Rio's shanty towns. Vila da Penha, to which Edevair moved with his family in 1969, is a more salubrious proposition: a lower-middle-class district where most of the population of 26,000 live in plain concrete houses and apartment blocks painted in fading pastel colours. Edevair's house is a pleasant bungalow on a hill.

Nowadays his son keeps a home in the affluent Barra district, on the coast to the south of Rio, just beyond Ipanema. But between the ages of three and 22, when Romario left Brazil to play in the Dutch league, Vila da Penha was his home, the place where he learnt to play.

One of these pictures shows locals playing on one of the town's football fields - Campo Dourado, which means field of gold. The players assured Lucy Davies that, yes indeed, the young Romario himself had played there. But his true football nursery, they admitted, had been the nearby Campo do Estrellinha - the field of little stars. And where was that? Over there, they pointed, where that supermarket now stands.

The scenes in Vila da Penha last Sunday were a vibrant rebuke to all the propaganda you may have read in the past week about the World Cup returning to the US at the earliest opportunity. We'll put up with going to France in 1998, some writers seem to be saying, and probably to Japan in 2002. But if Fifa can avoid giving it to an African nation in 2006, then let's all go back to Pasadena and Palo Alto - and if it's not possible in 2006, then it should be a definite booking for 2010. Fifa, it's said, are similarly inclined.

Well, not so fast. Just remember that these are the opinions of those of us who have just spent a month staying in Hiltons and Sheratons across America, our working lives eased by superior travel and telecommunications facilities. The planes were on time and the phones worked, which might not be true in, say, Brazil, where the World Cup has not been held since 1950, ostensibly on the grounds that the country can't afford it.

Since World Cup USA '94 reckons to make dollars 25m profit, that can no longer be an excuse. In the global village, this is now a movable festival: money from TV and sponsorship could be used to renovate Brazil's crumbling concrete football temples, and a few million real football fans would get to see the games at first hand.

Against the advocacy of the US, consider these points. First, the success of soccer's American renaissance, as embodied in the projected 1995 launch of Major League Soccer, is a very long shot indeed. On the eve of the finals, after five years of planning, the MSL chairman, Alan Rothenberg, could announce not a single major backer for his enterprise, and could name only seven of a projected 12 cities that will host the league's clubs. By the end of the tournament he had announced the identities of the kit and ball manufacturers: no big deal, quite literally.

Inevitably, Rothenberg has been waiting for the response of the TV networks to their coverage of the World Cup. It went well, as we all know. But this was the circus coming to town. Americans were interested to see the fully fledged version of the game many of them tried as children. They were proud of their own players, and they enjoyed the colour and novelty of the visiting teams. They turned up at the games in remarkable numbers, bringing with them admirable manners and an engaging naivety about the game, and they bought no end of souvenirs. But anyone who seriously thinks that soccer can replace gridiron football, baseball, ice hockey and basketball in American hearts is underestimating both the intrinsic virtues of those games and the power of the commercial interests involved.

Soccer is a simple game which suits both formal and informal environments, but so are baseball and, above all, basketball. Both those sports, like American football and ice hockey, provide plenty of the time-outs that give TV the openings for commercial breaks. And the team owners, powerful men like Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys and Lamar Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs, are likely to deploy real muscle against any new threat to their slice of the ratings and the revenues.

Just as crucially, perhaps, there is no sign of an interest in soccer among America's black population: of the hundreds of soccer-playing schoolchildren taking part in Chicago's big pre-tournament street parade, barely a handful were African- Americans, who were also conspicuous by their absence from the crowds in the stadiums. As things stand, the next Michael Jordan or Walter Payton is unlikely to be a soccer player. The next Pele or Romario, on the other hand, is very likely to be Brazilian, and his skills will be nurtured not on a college scholarship but in a place like Vila da Penha, on a field of gold.

(Photograph omitted)

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