THERE has been perhaps no better fullback in the history of football than Domingos da Guia (pictured). The stro...
THERE has been perhaps no better fullback in the history of football than Domingos da Guia (pictured). The strong and elegant defender, known as the _Fortress_, guarded Brazil_s flank in the 1930s and 1940s. Yet as a boy he was afraid to play until his brother prodded him: _Aren_t you any good at dancing?_ Domingos was and he brought his samba skills to the pitch, swinging his hips and evading opponents, a precursor to the joga bonito (_play beautifully_) style of recent Brazilian stars.
Domingos developed other evasive manoeuvres too. He kept his curly hair under a cap and then took to straightening it in order to look less black. The Fortress hoped to avoid the appalling racial abuse and discrimination suffered by his darker-skinned teammates. At that time blacks were often passed over by Latin American national teams. Officials, generally of European ancestry, were embarrassed by the image they might convey abroad.
The history of the beautiful game in Latin America can be quite ugly: ethnic divisions within countries and bitter rivalries between them played out on the pitch. Political turmoil came to be reflected in the game; violence was common. But football also imbued the region with a sense of pride and self-belief. The success of Latin America_s players stands in contrast to the failures of its political leaders. Their fluid style of play is known round the world, giving the region a positive identity.
Andreas Campomar_s new book, _Golazo!_ (from an expression used to describe an impressive goal), is a comprehensive recounting of this history. The author goes back to the Aztecs, who played a ball game called Ulamaliztli that loosely resembles football. Their pitches doubled as theatres in which humans were sacrificed; some had their hearts ripped out. Today_s football fans can surely empathise. But the real history of the game in Latin America begins in the 19th century when British immigrants began arriving in search of fortune.
These intrepid merchants, who kicked the ball around at their clubs, were not keen proselytisers of football. But the locally born upper classes were _always susceptible to European values that could be worn as a badge of ascension_, Mr Campomar writes. It would not take long for them to embrace the game and develop their own style of play. Dribbling took on greater importance as an _expression of criollo artistry_, and the cult of the individual replaced the team ethic. By the time Uruguay won Olympic gold medals in both 1924 and 1928, the Latin American game had developed its own assertive character.
The region would go on to produce world-class talents like Pel__ of Brazil and Diego Maradona of Argentina, who exemplified this unique style and whose personal antagonism reflected their rivalry, although they never once faced each other on the pitch. Latin America has been quite successful, winning nine of 19 World Cups, though _Golazo!_ is less a celebration of this beautiful play and more a chronicle of how sport, politics and culture have intersected and influenced each other across the region.
Take Mr Maradona, whose _more objectionable traits, which came in the guise of those twins, hubris and self-pity, were a reflection of Argentina_, says Mr Campomar. Had he been able to lead Argentina (the defending champion) to a World Cup victory in 1982, the country_s military dictatorship might have held on a little longer__the euphoria that came with victory [in 1978] anaesthetised the population._ The generals_ disastrous war with Britain over the Falkland Islands was followed by the regime_s collapse, and helped define Mr Maradona_s greatest achievement: winning the World Cup in 1986 while tormenting the English team.
Mr Campomar_s dense history can be tedious at times, even to fans of the game. But it is useful to have all of this information in one place, especially as Latin American squads excel at this year_s World Cup in Brazil. Should a regional team triumph in the Maracan__ stadium on July 13th, _Golazo!_ will provide a deeper sense of what all the excitement is about.