Mark Steel: View From The Terraces (or while watching Brazil in a London bar)

Why we'll never watch our team like Brazilians do
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The Independent Online

What makes a nation confident? Last week, on a train through Germany I met a middle-aged couple from Ghana. I said: "Good luck against the USA". "Thanks" said the woman, "But we will win. It's absolutely certain."

And her husband added "The USA will be losing so badly - George Bush will bomb the stadium and say he'd found a branch of al-Qa'ida there."

Then on Friday I watched this game in the heaving pulsating local Ghanaian bar. Ghana were winning 2-1 with 15 minutes to go, when the sound on the TV was replaced with a thumping African hip-hop track through the sound system, and they all started blowing whistles and dancing. You're not supposed to do that when you're 2-1 up with 15 minutes to go. You're supposed to clench your fists and mumble: "Keep it in the corner, oh my God we've conceded a throw on the halfway line, they're bound to score. How long now? How long now? And how long now?" I've been watching Crystal Palace when we've been three-nil up with 15 minutes to go and thought: "One more and I'll be confident we'll at least get a draw."

But some Ghanaians were dancing with such enthusiasm they weren't even watching the game. For tonight's match against Brazil they probably won't bother showing it, just have the victory party and check the score tomorrow in the paper.

The same evening I went to the Bar Salsa, London's biggest Brazilian bar, to join the only supporters who could challenge Ghana in a confidence World Cup, for their match against Japan. Watching Brazil with Brazilians is an experience few English would recognise. For no one shrieks "Clear it. Clear it. Get it out!" No one ever puts their head in their hands, and the rumble and drumming and dancing never stops.

In the front row was a line of 10 Japanese, all wearing headbands bearing a Japanese slogan, except for Dojia, a telephone salesman sat amidst the yellow shirts and sweltering stickiness wearing a business suit, but with whatever was on the headbands painted onto his forehead. "The Japanese bar was full," he said, "So we asked if we could come in here and they sat us in the front row."

As Japan attacked, their supporters clapped excitable little claps, the sort I imagine upper class English girls do when their dad buys them a horse. Then, amazingly, Japan scored, so they clapped a bit more. Then Brazil equalised so they laughed and clapped and threw their arms up in the way you might if you were playing crazy golf and the ball rolled back to where it started. At half-time some Brazilians insisted Dojia should join them on stage for a dance, which he did, still in his suit, still smiling.

Brazil had clearly been hurt by the way in which neutral affection has drifted towards Argentina in this tournament, as exhibitors of style and flamboyance. So they seemed determined to put on a display, and as the rapid passes flowed and the goals slid in, the Bar Salsa beat to a "ba-daa-da-ba-daa-da", so you couldn't help tapping your feet and doing that semi-wriggling movement that shy people do at the edge of a dancefloor. Eventually it felt as if the place was actually dancing to the rhythm of the passes.

And then it occurred to me. Could you possibly imagine the England team under Sven playing in a way that made you dance? If you danced to the rhythm of England's passes you'd create some weird experimental ballet, and end up starring in an avant-garde fringe theatre at the Edinburgh Festival.

Watch the Brazilian crowd and the Brazilian players and you realise the team Sven has created could never excite a room. It can make a room punch the air and yell "yeees!", in relief, but never excite. Somehow he's become more English than the English. If Sven were weather he'd be drizzle.

The worst side of England, the bit that's closed until Monday or cancelled due to staff shortages (with assurances it will all be fine that no one believes) has pervaded the team. During the matches Sven should make announcements over the Tannoy such as: "We apologise for the cancellation of the cross into the box. And regret to inform you that the pass forward expected at 4.17 will be nine minutes late."

For the Brazilians, the game's purpose is similar to the role cricket played in the Caribbean, to unite the team and supporters as one, so the carnival is as crucial to the process as the ball. For a national team it's not just the result that matters; the style of play reflects and enhances the attitudes of that nation. And with Brazil playing Ghana, there'll be so much exuberance from both supporters, the two conflicting surges of confidence and certainty could cause some sort of cosmic meltdown, the type that sometimes happened in Star Trek.

Against Japan, by the time Ronaldo scored Brazil's fourth goal, an atmosphere had been created in which it seemed all Brazilians could feel connected - black or white, the rich of Rio or the shanty town dwellers of São Paolo. As Ronaldo celebrated his goal I walked into the toilet, where a black Brazilian was sitting on a stool, his job to provide soap and towels all night to the revellers.

"Who scored?" he asked. "Ronaldo," I told him, "Go and see the replay." "Oh no I'd better not leave here," he said. "I'll watch the highlights tomorrow. Soap?"