The lyrical beauty of Brazilian football more uplifting than ever in this World Cup


Chris Jones is in Qatar to cover the Men’s World Cup for CBC Sports.

In the historic center of the steamy and sprawling Brazilian city of Manaus, lies the most unlikely sanctuary: the Teatro Amazonas, an opera house.

Its construction began in 1884, at the vertiginous height of a rubber dam. It took 12 years to complete. A wonderfully-named Italian architect, Celestial Sacardim, oversaw its construction. He was a madman and he made it his mission to bring Italian high culture to the jungle.

The opera house has hand-painted ceiling panels, polished marble floors and 200 Italian chandeliers, each of which was shipped in a crate across the Atlantic Ocean, transported by the Amazon and lit inside a musical cathedral.

I went to this opera in 2014 when Brazil hosted the Men’s World Cup. Italy and England were playing in Manaus for some inexplicable reason. The first time I entered, I was alone. It was a lovely, strange place anyway, but given the heat and chaos outside, it felt like heaven.

The next morning I met an American friend who was in deep grief. A few days before the World Cup, his father was killed in a motorcycle accident. He decided to come to Brazil, thinking it might help him overcome some difficulties, but his wife was worried. She asked me to keep an eye on him.

I took him to the opera. Unlike my first visit, when it was otherwise empty, my friend and I came across the entire opera company, in street clothes, rehearsing on stage. No one seemed to care for us, so we took up residence in one of the old boxes, wrapped in red velvet.

England fans pose outside the Teatro Amazonas opera house in Manaus, Brazil, during the 2014 Men’s World Cup. (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Mourning is a ghost

My friend and I sat there together, and the whole building was filled with the most magnificent sound. We sat there the longest. My friend is calm, discreet and ironic – I like him very much – and is not the type of person to talk about his feelings. We just sat there and listened, but I have no doubt from the look on his face that he was with his father.

Tonight in Doha I thought of my friend and our time at the opera when I went to watch Brazil play Switzerland at Stadium 974, another unlikely monument to madness.

Mourning is a spectrum. Some losses are indescribable, or approaching it. They are as damaging as blunt trauma. Some are more like regrets and some are more like disappointments, and yet there are many other words we use to describe the times in our lives that keep us up at night, wishing they were gone.

I was sad Sunday night watching Canada get dismantled by Croatia. It would be too much to describe my feelings as grief – it would be insulting to people who are suffering from real grief. I’ve been through enough grief to know what real grief is.

But I love soccer and I’ve waited a long time to see Canadian men play in a World Cup. I was 12 the last time they did it, and today I’m 48.

I am no longer the same person I was. If the losses have different scales, they have in common their permanence. When you’ve lived long enough, you carry your defeats with you, like the pain of an old wound. You can never throw them away. All you can do is try to get to a place where you feel them a little less deeply, a little less often.

WATCH | Soccer North — Canada v Croatia post-match reactions broadcast:

Post-match reaction between Canada and Croatia

Watch Andi Petrillo and his guests take a look at the Canada-Croatia game at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

One way to do this is to seek respites and life’s antidotes. You hide in an opera house and you come across strangers who are singing at the top of their voices, as if in honor of your lost father, for no one but you.

Football is an opera for me. The way Brazilians play it is the aria. In the 83rd minute, Casemiro hit a half-volley so softly, with such a pure connection, that the only part of Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer that moved was his head, turning to watch the ball pass past him into the net.

That single moment of brilliance was all the Brazilians needed to win, 1-0.

It was also all I needed. For a few blissful seconds after seeing that goal, I remembered some things that were nice for me to remember, and forgot some things that I would rather forget.

This hard truth is that every time you fall in love, you try your luck. Maybe you won’t be loved back. Maybe you will, but not always, or not forever.

You can protect your heart by making it inaccessible to anyone or anything outside of yourself. Or you can choose to leave yourself open to all the emotions that human existence has to offer.

Risk is the greatest of penalties.

The reward is joy. The reward is beauty. The reward is hope.

Watch Soccer North live immediately after each of Canada’s matches on CBC Gem, and the CBC Sports YouTube channel

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