July 10, 1998
Four-time world champion Brazil and host nation France are ready to battle for the World Cup title, the most coveted trophy in all of sports.Phil Ponce talks to a Brazilian and a French journalist about the game.
JIM LEHRER: The World Cup and to Phil Ponce.
PHIL PONCE: Over the last five weeks a cumulative global television audience of 37 billion people has watched 62 games of World Cup soccer. Thirty-two national teams started out. This week they were whittled down to two. Brazil's semifinal victory over the Netherlands Tuesday came after 90 minutes of regulation play and 30 of sudden death overtime. The game was still tied one to one, so each team had five penalty kicks to see which could make the most. It was an emotional win for Brazil and brought the team's coach to tears. Brazil can now win its second straight World Cup title and a record fifth overall.
Host country France then played Croatia on Wednesday for the right to play Brazil in Sunday's final match. France's two to one victory set off a national celebration. France invented the tournament in 1930 and will now play in its first ever championship match. One of this year's big surprises was the Croatian team. It reached the Final Four in its World Cup appearance. It's been an independent country for only seven years since its break with Yugoslavia. There have also been agonizing defeats. In one of the most exciting games Argentina beat England on penalty kicks after a 2/2 tie. The loss sent England to something approaching national mourning.
And the U.S. was disappointed too. The Americans lost all three qualifying matches, including a two to one loss to Iran in a high-profile game. Not all the action was on the field. Security officials had to play defense themselves against continuing hooliganism. In the most serious incident a group of German neo Nazis clashed with police and left a French policeman in a coma after he was clubbed in the head. Up to 2 million fans came to the games, and officials say the overwhelming majority were well behaved. On Sunday, all soccer fans will find out whether the next world champion is Brazil or France.
PHIL PONCE: We're joined now by two people who will watch Sunday's game with interest. From France Philippe Coste, the New York correspondent for L'Express, a weekly French news magazine, and a Brazilian perspective from Paulo Sotero, the Washington correspondent for O Estado de Sao Paulo, a daily Brazilian newspaper. Gentlemen, welcome both. Philippe Coste, you were just in Paris, when France beat Croatia. What was it like there?
PHILIPPE COSTE, L'Express: I was in my car during the first minutes of the game, and actually I had never heard such an eerie silence in the city. Everybody was at home. I could cross the street in something like 15 minutes, so the city was completely deserted. And, well, there was this kind of incredible tension in the city and I think in the whole country during the first half of the game, and then afterwards came the victory and really the atmosphere in Paris is really such an explosion of joy is actually unprecedented, and we've never seen in years 350,000 people in the Champs Elysses, people hugging each other, hugging perfect strangers in the street, there was some kind of a fraternity or some kind of a solidarity feeding the whole city that we are not really accustomed to in Paris, which is supposed to be a very reserved town.
PHIL PONCE: Paulo Sotero, you're not going to bust his bubble, are you, on Sunday?
PAULO SOTERO, O Estado de Sao Paulo: We will try. We will really try. I think we have a great team. We are not totally satisfied with our team yet. They don't have—they have not played to the standards that we'd like to see them playing, but—
PHIL PONCE: How can you not be satisfied with them if they're in the final game? What standards are they not meeting?
PAULO SOTERO: In Brazil we are very picky about those things. You know, we had the gods of soccer, we had Belair, that's the standard. It was like having Michael Jackson here.
PHIL PONCE: You mean Michael Jordan?
PAULO SOTERO: Michael Jordan. Sorry. You had this—we had—we need to play a very effective joyous kind of soccer. We like improvisation. We like the teams scoring, and the team has been sort of tentative so far, and we hope that on Sunday we'll win but we'll win big, we win like we won in '58, five/two, or against Italy in 1970 in Mexico, four/one, that's the kind of thing that would make us very, very happy.
PHIL PONCE: Philippe Coste, what does this game mean to France?
PHILIPPE COSTE: Actually it's a big surprise. We never reached the final in the World Cup, and actually the French are still stunned by so many victories, they feel like—I don't know—struggling actors—just meeting—a story with DeNiro in a movie—and all of a sudden it's some kind of a really honorable performance for a team that was really an outsider, so far.
What it means, it means a lot more for the French society I think that we've come so far, for a country that was really struggling with a loss of identity, with some fears about its strength, its position in the world. All of a sudden things are getting clear. We have more common denominators. There's some kind of hope, and it corresponds at the same time with a lot of changes in the French society, when we look, for example, at the French team, which is a racially mixed team, well, there is some kind of an emphasis on values like this team got there because of hard work, it got there because of good integration in the country, and people are really proud of that team, and that's a very—that's an encouraging sign for some gap bridging in the French society or some soothing of discrepancies.
PHIL PONCE: Paulo Sotero, does the game mean as much in Brazil as it seems to mean in France?
PAULO SOTERO: Oh, it means a lot to us. It's a celebration of ourselves, and it's something that we do very well. We are the team that won four World Cups already. We played in every World Cup since 1930. And it I think over the years we have been so successful with this, we have raised this game to such a high level, that it has become at an emotional level a celebration sort of an equalizing in Brazil, an equalizer in Brazilian society. Now this is something that everybody in Brazil can do.
Brazil is a very unequal society. So it's a way—it's a celebration, a very hopeful thing for us. You know, we're altogether in this. There is no Brazilian that thinks he or she is better than the other Brazilian when it comes to judge soccer. And it's a very beautiful thing. It's a lot of fun really.
PHIL PONCE: But it seems to me that looking at the video from France, Philippe Coste, that there's a passion that so many countries attach to the game. What is the source of the passion?
PHILIPPE COSTE: Oh, the source of the passion? Well, it's a simple game in a way. It's—well, maybe we could compare it with the—with what the Brazilians say—I mean, it's an equalizing factor in society. It's the one moment when people come together and submit to the same rules, watch the same players, watch themselves at the same time chanting and enjoying the game. But France has not been one of the most ecstatic countries, one of the Italians, the Brazilians are known for their fans, and I think this enjoyment by the French of the soccer game is something really new. For long we didn't have good teams; the days of glory of the Platini teams of the 80's were long gone. We never reached such a high level.
And all of a sudden everybody is converging towards this game, even in France—women, for example, that were supposedly not very interested are cheering their team the same way as everybody in the country. So I think it's a specific moment for the country.
PHIL PONCE: Paulo Sotero, is part of the enthusiasm, part of the excitement, tapping into patriotism, a love of Brazil, the fact that Brazil is on the world stage in such a prominent way, is that a part of it?
PAULO SOTERO: It can tend to overdue those things. In 1970, for instance, we are governed by a military dictatorship when we won for the third time and they used that. They tried to use our joy to promote their own project for Brazil, which we ended up by rejecting later on. But I think there is this—it's patriotic but in a very—you say in a very positive way.
It's not—it's a very healthy raising of the flag. There is no hatred for other. It's not something that we do against France. We all love France. We obviously hope to win this and then go off and celebrate and drink a lot of French wine, and—but it's positive because if, for instance, politically, you know, I don't think it means much. We are in an election year. We are pretty much at peace with ourselves in Brazil. We are a democratic nation.
We are struggling to perfect our own democracy. If the team wins, I think it will help some the current president but you know, I don't think that people will abuse that, we'll try to overuse that, because it could backfire on them.
PHIL PONCE: Philippe Coste, very quickly, how do you explain to Americans—I mean, you've been working in the United States for a while—how do you explain to Americans the passion for soccer that exists in other parts of the world?
PHILIPPE COSTE: Oh, it's quite difficult. I can explain what's going on in France. For the first time they have a united team, they have a team that works fine together, that's very representative of their nation, very—it's a game that transcends class and that transcends economic problems, and it's a moment of grace in the society, especially for France, that have been struggling with identity problems for such a long time, and that was, let's say, submitted to some kind of a gloomy period of its existence during the recession, and also it's coming together—values are more simple. It transcends politics. It transcends everyday problems, and I think that's why it—I think this victory or that—
PHIL PONCE: Well, Phillippe Coste, I have to interrupt you. May the best team win. Phillippe Coste, Paulo Sotero, good luck to you two.