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Brazil soccer team routs Haiti, makes American sports seem minor league

They Brought Peace to Our Country

“They brought peace to our country,” said Haitian national team player Jean-Marc Alexandre, who played against Brazil Wednesday night. “That game will be remembered in the history of Haiti.”

Climb down from your high horse, America, and let me tell you about real big-time sports — not the regionalized, rinky-dink version of sports we know as the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball.

Let me tell you about the most dynastic, decorated, powerful, passion-filled sports team in the history of the world — the Brazilian national soccer team that throttled Haiti 7-1 Wednesday night in a Copa América Centenario match at Camping World Stadium.

We Americans act like we know how important sports are, but we really have no idea. The Brazilian nationals make the New York Yankees seem like the Toledo Mudhens; they make the New England Patriots seem like the Peoria Pitbulls; they make the Alabama Crimson Tide seem like UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs.

We Americans are currently making a big deal about an NBA team called the Warriors, but the Brazilian nationals — known internationally as the Seleção — has so much gravitas they actually halted a war once in Haiti.

“They brought peace to our country,” said Haitian national team player Jean-Marc Alexandre, who played against Brazil Wednesday night. “That game will be remembered in the history of Haiti.”

Alexandre is talking about the famous “Game of Peace” in 2004 when Haiti was in the midst of a violent insurrection. Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide had been overthrown months earlier in a bloody revolt and the United Nations sent in troops to restore order.

But what really brought some tranquility to the country was the Brazilian nationals, who were commissioned by the U.N. and sent on a peacekeeping operation of their own. The mission: To play a fútbol friendly against the Haitian nationals as a way to promote peace and unity in the ravaged island-nation.

You see, the Seleção is idolized in Haiti and has been for generations. The Brazilian nationals have been so dominant and so popular for so long, Haitians long ago adopted them as their own. Remember how the Dallas Cowboys used to call themselves “America’s Team?” Well, Brazil, with more World Cup championships than any nation on the globe, is truly “The Team of the Americas.”

And, so, when the Seleção showed up 12 years ago in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince and were paraded to the soccer stadium in tanks, thousands upon thousands of Haitians lined the parade path, cheered wildly and ran after the tanks on foot. It was like the Beatles coming to America for the first time — multiplied by 100.

Many Haitians in the stadium that night waved Brazilian flags and were decked out in Brazilian colors instead of their own. Some wore T-shirts with the slogan “‘One Match, One Country.” Guns were collected at the entry gates.

“The deal was that you handed in a gun in return for a ticket to the game,” Alexandre says now. “They collected barrels of guns.”

In other words, Haiti was at least briefly unified because of the mere presence of the Seleção — a sports team so global and so great that it doesn’t simply provide entertainment for its own country; it provides hope and solace to other nations.

Fast forward a dozen years later to Wednesday night when the Brazilians, even though they routed Haiti by the same lopsided margin as 2004, were once again treated like royalty by the Haitian fans. As the game ended, Haitian fans cheered both teams as they came off the pitch.

“It’s Brazil,” said Haitian midfielder James Marcelin. “We knew they were better than us. I just feel blessed to have scored a goal against them.”

We simply have nothing that compares to this Brazilian phenomenon in America — a fractured sports nation more focused on our individual teams than national teams. It is why many American fans and media members who follow Orlando City can’t grasp the concept of team captain Kaká getting called up for international duty and missing regular season games for the Lions while taking part in exhibition friendlies for Brazil.

In America, we just shrugged and thought nothing of it earlier this week when Steph Curry said he wasn’t going to play on the our Olympic basketball team. If Brazil’s best player, Neymar, decided to sit out the Olympics, he would be expatriated from the country.

“I love American sports, but I don’t think people here know what it’s like in countries like Brazil,” Orlando City coach Adrian Heath says. “Every time the Brazilian national team plays, that nation comes to a standstill and it’s a holiday for the workers. The whole day is spent gearing up for the national team to play. The government acknowledges that the mood of the people is affected by the way the national team is playing. It’s important to them; it’s their identity; it makes their country.”

Sometimes, miraculously, it even saves other countries.

Orlandosentinel.com

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