Brazilians don't do nuance. They have the ugliest slums, loveliest beaches, slowest switchboards and fastest Formula I drivers in the world. Carnaval is the wildest party of all time, caipirinha the strongest drink in Christendom, tanga the skimpiest swimwear that the law—of nations, of gravity—allows. Brazilians are exhibitionists with their emotions as well. So Jordan makes them sob, and soccer is "the beautiful game," and national squad manager, Mario Zagallo, simply could not help himself when he said last December, "The team will realize my dreams and win the World Cup in France."
You can't stop alegria, nor even hope to contain it. This makes Brazilians the worst diplomats in international sport. When asked to handicap the World Cup, the president of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, said, "Obviously, we're going to win."
Obviously? "We have the best players," Ronaldo says flatly. "But to have the best players and to win is not the same thing. We have to prove. It's like when the Dream Team played in the Olympics. Everybody knew that they were a lot better than everybody else. But they had to prove."
This sense of mission makes an omni-talented team, even one diminished by star striker Romário's injury, all the more formidable. Ronaldo has never won a major league title in the top leagues he's played in—not in five first-division club seasons nor, really, at the 1994 World Cup, where, at 17, he didn't play a minute—so he really does have something to prove this summer. Another man who performs part-time in Milan knows the doom that this forecasts for the rest of the world. "I would like to see Italy in the final," says tenor Luciano Pavarotti. "It's a hubristic dream, of course. Brazil is around."
Indeed, Brazil's tallest challenge at the World Cup may be this: loosing alegria on the jaded host nation, which gave the world the words ennui and malaise and blasé. It is a hubristic dream—foreign tourists winning over the French. But Brazil is around. And the Brazilians are bringing with them Ronaldo, a confetti cannon of a young man, belching out a kind of exuberant joy.