When it comes to soccer, Brazil is known worldwide as the land of the magicians. There’s even a word for the specific fusion of sorcery and skill embodied by so many of the nation’s players: ginga, the Portuguese term for a certain kind of sublime deftness on the pitch, something incorporating both the sway of hips and unfettered imagination.
During the 2014 World Cup, the tournament felt similarly enchanted, with the endless goals in group play, the drastic reversals of fortune, and the impossible injury-time saviors. Even the spectacular failure of the Brazilian team at home felt otherworldly, with the squad too thoroughly ravaged for it not to have been fated. After more than a decade without a World Cup victory, Brazil forsook ginga in favor of a more aggressive determination to win at all costs, leading the World Cup in fouls committed. The 7:1 loss against the German team felt like a reprimand from the angered pantheon—a sign Brazil should get back to the magic and beauty it’s known for.
At that tournament, Neymar was the totem representing the ginga of the past; his pedestrian teammates throwing his extraordinary ability into sharper focus. When the striker’s injured vertebra prevented him from playing in the semi-final, the country mourned the loss of its magician.
But Neymar isn’t the country’s only hope.
In the 2007 World Cup semi-final against the United States, a then-21-year-old named Marta backheel-juggled the ball around one side of the defender, and pirouetted around the other before scoring, marking one of the first moments Brazil became aware of another magician in its midst.