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Sunday, June 15, 2014

World Cup provides unifying experience for soccer fans

NASHUA – Athos Fonseca sat in his father’s restaurant, Sabor Brasil, watching as its small interior filled with excited locals supporting Brazil in the opening match of the World Cup against Croatia on Thursday.

Fonseca greeted everyone – stranger or friend –
like family, offering to move tables together to make more room and sharing his plate of coxinhas, fried chicken dumplings. ...

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NASHUA – Athos Fonseca sat in his father’s restaurant, Sabor Brasil, watching as its small interior filled with excited locals supporting Brazil in the opening match of the World Cup against Croatia on Thursday.

Fonseca greeted everyone – stranger or friend –
like family, offering to move tables together to make more room and sharing his plate of coxinhas, fried chicken dumplings.

“It’s all a huge party,” Fonseca said.

As the start of the game drew near, the restaurant became packed with green-and-yellow-clad spectators cheering, jumping, drinking, eating and chatting. People in the crowd showed off their support for Brazil’s soccer team with nails decorated to resemble the Brazilian flag and faces painted in bright colors. Others wore bandannas and glittery hats.

The younger fans in the throng wore green and yellow mohawk wigs and delighted in blowing an air horn passed among tables.

Its high-pitched screech filled the small restaurant whenever something good or bad happened. It appeared the horn didn’t signify success or failure, but was more of a way to add to the general cacophony and infectious party atmosphere.

“It’s contagious, that excitement, that energy. … It has a way of driving people pretty much insane,” Fonseca said.

Passion for sports is something many people from southern New Hampshire are familiar with. After all, Red Sox fans withstood an 86-year streak without winning the World Series and didn’t abandon their love for their team. However, the passion for soccer in Brazil runs even deeper.

“It’s basically a religion. … It’s the one time people put aside their differences. … For those 90 minutes, it’s like one extended family,” Fonseca said.

As the crowd in Sabor Brasil placed their hands over their hearts and sang the Brazilian national anthem, swaying back and forth in time with the crowd on television, it was easy to feel the unity Fonseca described.

Some fans even believe the unity surrounding the soccer team could affect the current political unrest in Brazil.

At a price tag of nearly $12 billion, World Cup costs were heavily protested leading up to the opening match. Many Brazilians believe the money used to build stadiums and other facilities for the event should have been spent on the country’s social needs.

David Watson, an original Bostonian who lived in Brazil for many years, said if Brazil wins the cup, its economy will improve and all will be forgotten. However, if Brazil loses early, the backlash could be catastrophic.

Others said that although the protests will continue regardless of the outcome, nothing will deter the energizing spirit of the World Cup.

“Now there is nothing you can do anymore,” said Jane Lorentz, owner of Tropical Side, a Brazilian market in Nashua. “Now they’re getting to the spirit of the cup.”

Fonseca said although protests would continue, the spirit of the World Cup is a more unifying force than any demonstration. In Fonseca’s view, the cup isn’t just about soccer, or even about Brazil, it’s about national pride.

Even if Brazil loses, Fonseca said he would continue to follow the World Cup and support any Latin American country still playing. If all of the Latin American countries lose, he would support Portugal, then Spain – anything to keep the party going.

“Soccer is a heartbeat for the Brazilian community,” Watson said. “It’s a pulse.”

The pulse quickened early in the home team’s 3-1 victory when a Brazilian player dribbled the ball downfield, defying defenders and heading straight for the Croatian goal. The crowd leaned forward and waited for the moment when they would either cheer in celebration or groan in grief.

The Brazilian player kicked the ball; it soared toward the goal, but was plucked out of the air by the Croatian goalie.

The group at Sabor Brasil clapped in appreciation, banged on drums and tabletops, and blew the air horn – unified in the spirit of the World Cup.

Emily Kwesell can be reached at 594-6466 or ekwesell@nashua
telegraph.com.