In the 74th minute on Monday, Romario set up the game's lone goal. He eluded Dooley's sliding tackle outside the penalty area, dodged Balboa and laid off a pass to his right, past Lalas to Bebeto, who didn't have to break stride to beat American goalkeeper Tony Meola. From the looks of the embrace the two Brazilian strikers shared after their collaboration, Romario may even be willing to sit next to Bebeto on the flight to Dallas, where the Magnificent Mononyms will play the Netherlands on Saturday in the quarterfinals.
Brazil, which has won three World Cups (1958, '62, '70), is a nation that looks for salvation from its soccer. The government is plagued by chronic corruption. The people can hardly tell what currency they'll be paid in from week to week. Renegade policemen shoot street urchins with impunity. Thus Brazilians hang their hopes on the promise of the national team every quadrennial, even as untimely injuries, dissension or turns of fate have thwarted their expectations again and again. Posters all over the country articulate the wish unrequited since 1970: ONE MORE, BRAZIL!
" Brazil lives for soccer," says Romario. "It has misery. It has bad politics. Soccer is like a blanket wrapping up all that."
Despite its elimination, the U.S. team raised its profile immeasurably during its Cup run. Say "Bora," and Statesiders no longer think of half an island in the South Pacific. By advancing to the second round the Americans pulled in a huge television audience for their match with Brazil, the team that, notwithstanding Leonardo's elbow, is soccer's best advertisement for itself. The U.S. was the perfect host—delivering the not-too-long, just-witty-enough toast before letting the guests be the lives of the party.
There's a life of the party, and then there's Brazil, which with its drum-beating fans and exuberant style is a festival unto itself. A few months ago someone asked Romario to name his dream World Cup final. " Brazil against Brazil," he answered, not unsurprisingly. As it happens, that's not just Romario's dream, or Brazil's, but much of the rest of the world's as well. For their artful style the Brazilians have come to be known outside the Land of the Carnival as everyone's second-favorite team.
So millions of Americans have reason to continue to follow this World Cup, in spite of the elimination of the home team—and to come to terms with a notion that only a few weeks ago must have seemed strange indeed: that they have a first favorite team, too.