“I was afraid of playing football because I had often seen a black player get struck on the pitch for committing a foul,” said Domingos da Guia, a defender who played for Brazil in the 1938 World Cup. “But I was a very good dancer and that helped me on the pitch. I invented the short dribble by imitating the miudinho, a form of samba.”
Roy Keane didn’t like it but when Brazil’s players – and the coach, Tite – celebrated scoring against South Korea in their last-16 victory on Monday by performing Richarlison’s trademark pigeon dance, they were following a historic tradition that represents the very soul of the Selectionoh, Samba, which has its roots in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo via the African slave trade, and football were adopted by Brazil’s working classes just as Da Guia was making his international debut in 1931.
According to Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre, the distinctive style of play Brazil has become known for comes from the indelible link between the two. “In football, as in politics, a feature of the Brazilian racial blend is a taste for bending the rules, an element of surprise or frills that calls to mind dance steps and the Capoeira,” he wrote within the Forties.
When a 17-year-old Pelé and the winger Garrincha impressed them to their first World Cup victory in 1958, the tune A style of the arena is ours – The World Cup is Ours – left indubitably in regards to the essential significance of song to the staff’s good fortune: “The Brazilian has proven off true soccer in another country; he has gained the World Cup dancing the samba with the ball at his toes.”
Those lyrics were slightly rejigged after the repeat victory four years later to include the line “the Brazilian this time in Chile. Showed football the way it is.
According to legend, the celebrated samba singer Elza Soares fainted in the stands at the end of Brazil’s 3–1 win over Czechoslovakia in the final but recovered in time to perform a song in honor of her future husband Garrincha in the changing room.
Pelé was among those to pay tribute to Soares in January after her death at the age of 91, describing her as a “legend of our song, ancient, authentic, distinctive and unheard of”.
Two decades after their triumph in Chile – with Brazil having won a third World Cup in 1970 – Júnior celebrated scoring the third goal against Argentina in Spain 1982 with some impromptu samba steps but they were surprisingly beaten by eventual winners Italy.
However, the tradition of celebrating goals with dance routines is generally a more recent phenomenon that has not been restricted to Brazilians. Roger Milla’s corner flag wiggle at Italia 90 and again at USA 1994 were inspired “by means of his personal creativeness” according to the Cameroon striker, while Papa Bouba Diop celebrated his goal against France, the holders, in 2002 by removing his shirt and performing a mbalax dance with his Senegal teammates. But after Bebeto and Romario’s cradle‑rocking routine in 1994 that was a tribute to the former’s newborn Mattheus Oliveira – now 28 and playing in the Portuguese second division – it is Brazil that has always had the strongest tradition to uphold.
“Dance is the symbol. We symbolize the joy of scoring a goal. We don’t do it to disrespect, we don’t do it in front of the opponent,” mentioned West Ham’s Lucas Paquetá after the South Korea fit. “We get in combination, you’ll be able to glance. Everyone is there and we rejoice. It’s our second, we scored the purpose, Brazil is celebrating.”
For Vinícius Júnior, who scored the first goal against South Korea, the criticism would have had particular resonance. In September, the Real Madrid forward was accused of not respecting his opponents and told to “forestall taking part in the monkey” by Pedro Bravo – a leading agent and president of the Association of Spanish Agents – on live television after celebrating his goals by dancing.
Vinícius was then targeted with monkey chants by Atlético Madrid supporters in Real’s 2–1 victory, having said in a post on Instagram he would keep dancing despite being warned there would be “hassle” by the Atlético captain, Koke, if he did.
“They say happiness upsets. The happiness of a black Brazilian successful in Europe upsets much more,” Vinícius wrote. “Weeks in the past they started to criminalize my dances. Dances that aren’t mine. They belong to Ronaldinho, Neymar, Paquetá, [Antoine] Griezmann, João Félix and Matheus Cunha … they belong to Brazilian funk and samba artists, reggaeton singers, and black Americans. Those are dances to rejoice the cultural range of the arena. Accept it, recognize it. I’m now not going to prevent.