The World Cup 2002 was not supposed to be Brazil’s tournament. A powerful Argentinean teaming sporting the likes of Batistuta and Verón seemed unbeatable, while the Brazilians had barely managed to qualify. A Selecão did receive a lucky draw, however, and played China, Turkey, and Costa Rica in the group stage. After defeating these three opponents the team went on the play Belgium and then England in the quarter-finals. In the semi-final game they once again matched up against Turkey and managed to win 1-0. Meanwhile, Argentina had been eliminated in the group stage by a David Beckham goal and stellar play from the Swedish squad, and a Germany team led by star goalkeeper Oliver Kahn was all that stood between Brazil and World Cup glory.
Kahn won the trophyAmidst the frenetic celebration and streaming confetti a group of three players, including Kaká and Lucio, knelt facedown on the field and gave thanks to God for the victory,. Later, the entire team knelt in prayer to give God the glory, and on the winners podium several players sported shirts with slogans such as, “I belong to Jesus” and “Jesus love you.”
After the 2002 World Cup several Brazilian players continued to publicly display their faith. There were a total of seven Christians on the 2006 Brazilian World Cup roster; many were known for praying on the field and for modeling Christian apparel after scoring a goal or winning a game. Lucio and Kaká continued to lead the Christian delegation – both displayed Christian-message shirts after Brazil won the 2005 and 2009 Confederations Cups.
Lucio became the team captain after Brazil’s disappointing 2006 World Cup performance. He does not seem to be overly concerned with the weight of a nation resting on his shoulders, he said “anyone who steps onto the football field has to accept the result. When you lose there is a need to analyze why.” His analysis must have been effective – in the early summer of 2009 Brazil beat the USA to win the Confederations Cup. In the upcoming World Cup the expectations for the Brazilian side will once again be high, but the players are quick to point out that life is about more than winning and losing. In an online interview Lucio said, “Anyone who thinks that he has everything and doesn’t have Jesus doesn’t have anything.”
Brazil is not the only team to rally around a common cause. In a game against South Korea in June of 2009 several players on the Iranian national team wore green wristbands in support of opposition leader Mir Hossein Moussavi. The players removed their wristbands at half-time, in all likelihood at the behest of the ruling Iranian powers. Taking a firm stance on anything when you are representing an entire nation is always risky, but I, for one, admire players willing to stand up for their beliefs.