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Indecent proposal

Maradona wearing a Brazilian jersey? Say it ain't so!

Posted: Wednesday May 3, 2006 12:05PM; Updated: Wednesday May 3, 2006 12:05PM
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In a TV ad for Brazilian soft drink GuaranŠ, Argentine legend Diego Maradona appears in a Brazil jersey alongside KakŠ and Ronaldo.
In a TV ad for Brazilian soft drink GuaranŠ, Argentine legend Diego Maradona appears in a Brazil jersey alongside KakŠ and Ronaldo.
Courtesy of AmBev Co.
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Picture this scene: a barrel of gunpowder branded "EL ACME," with a long fuse trailing behind it that forks into two directions. At the end of each, there is a castle ruled by a king. One wears a light blue crown, the other, a green-and-yellow one.

Someone has just lit the fuse.

That's more or less the atmosphere as the World Cup approaches. The long-lasting rivalry between Argentina and Brazil is reaching its pinnacle. Who's going to blow?

The tables are open -- place your bets and above all, watch out for dirty tricks.

KakŠ, Ronaldo and Diego Maradona: All are wearing green-and-yellow jerseys adorned with the five stars. The anthem starts: Ouviram do ipiranga as margens plaaaaaaaacidas. De um povo heroico, brado retumbante!

Everyone sings it perfectly, including Maradoninha, as they call him. A bit of accent, but no problems.

And then the king of Argentina, Dieguito, suddenly wakes up. "Ay caramba! It was a nightmare!" cries Maradona, still under his blanket. But wait! He has sweated through his Argentina jersey! He glances at his night stand, where several empty cans of GuaranŠ -- the most Brazilian of soft drinks -- sit atop it.

"What a horrible nightmare," he says to himself. "I must stop drinking so much GuaranŠ. I'm becoming a bit Brazilian."

In people's wildest dreams -- or nightmares -- they never could have foreseen this: For a payment of about $350,000, Maradona agreed to appear in†this TV ad for GuaranŠ, one of the main sponsors of the Brazilian national team!

"Wearing the jersey of Brazil is profanity!" wrote an Argentinean daily.

"But how on earth could he stay there, singing their national anthem?" asked a popular talk show in Buenos Aires. "It's more than betrayal, it's the end!"

Just a few days after the spot first appeared on local television, there were few people who weren't†aware of the commercial.

But Maradona is Maradona, and he can do whatever he wants. And especially in Brazil. That is why he loves Brazil -- and Brazil likes him back. He has been to Rio de Janeiro and S„o Paulo at least seven times this year, be it playing indoor soccer with Bebeto and Careca,†paying respects to the late Tele Santana, dancing like crazy during the Carnaval, or even playing soccer in Zico's private house.

All of that has been accepted. But singing the Brazilian national anthem?

Remember that movie Indecent Proposal,†in which Robert Redford offers Woody Harrelson $1 million to let him sleep with his wife, played by Demi Moore? Something of that nature is happening in every Brazilian street, and on many radio and TV shows.

In one way or another, the question is the same: Would†Pelť agree to wear the jersey of Argentina and sing its national anthem? How much money would it take? Would Ronaldo, for the right price,†star in a TV spot wearing the jersey of†his homeland's fiercest rival?

Numbers have been running wild. No one would accept a similar gig that Maradona did for less than half a million. But in Argentina, nobody talks about another aspect of the ad.

By the end of the spot, a voice says: "Every football star in the world dreamed, at least once, of playing with the Brazilian national team!"

They're already thinking payback. On the top soccer blogs in Argentina, they're talking about how to do something just as bold and offensive. Advertising people are meeting. And someone has already started to look for funds to hire Pelť and Ronaldinho, together, to wear the jersey of Argentina while they desperately ask for autographs from Maradona and beg Leo Messi to teach them a few tricks with the ball.

Some are calling Maradona a mercenario, crying he shouldn't have done it for all the money on earth. There is even a rumor that it wasn't really him singing the Brazilian national anthem in the ad, but a voiceover. "That would save our dignity," said a radio broadcaster in Argentina.

But he's enjoying every second, every dollar and every line of free advertising he gets from it. He even went back home to Argentina with three new official Brazilian jerseys. And get this: On the back of each one, "MARADONA" is printed.

In his only speech after the "nightmare" spot first ran, he said it was the third time he wore the Brazilian jersey: "Once I used it during the South American Under-20 tournament; and at the 1990 World Cup, I wore Careca's jersey," he said. "I have no problem with that. One thing is sure: I will never wear a jersey of River Plate. I am too Boca Juniors for that!"

In Argentina, the top sports daily, Olť, called it Scary Movie, and promised another ad as an answer. Brazilians already have their weapons in place for a rebuttal: A beer company is launching a TV spot that claims if the man who invented football drank its beer, Brazil vs. Argentina wouldn't be the war it is today.

"If he drank our beer, soccer would be like this," the ad says, and the images show a Brazil-Argentina match. Every time an Argentine takes a shot on goal, the goalposts come alive and move out of the way, denying the ball the net. Whenever there's a corner kick, the goal simply turns around. And when the Argentinean player takes a penalty kick, the goal actually bends backwards and lets the ball fly over it.

In war, love and soccer, everything is legal, it seems.

The moment Maradona decided to be Brazilian for a day is creating waves. The best is still to come. Let's see if he starts cheering for Brazil if Argentina is knocked out of the World Cup.