Melina Bettancourt sat quietly watching as the Brazil men’s Olympic soccer team warmed up for the gold-medal game against Germany on Saturday night.
Bettancourt, 19, hadn’t enjoyed an Olympic soccer championship in her lifetime because, despite being one of the world’s most traditionally soccer-rich countries, Brazil had never won one.
“I hope we win, for the love of God,” Bettancourt said before Saturday’s game at Maracana Stadium.
Three hours later, tears of joy exuded down the Rio-born college student’s face as she celebrated Brazil’s 1-1 (5-4 penalty-kick shootout) victory over the same foe that had embarrassed her home nation with a 7-1 score in the FIFA World Cup semifinal just two years before in the same stadium.
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Wearing a bright yellow jersey with No. 10 and Neymar Jr. written in solid green on the back, Bettancourt said the 3,000 Brazilian Reais ($936) that she, her father Enrique, 47, and brother Flávio, 17, each paid for their tickets was worth every penny of Brazil’s “revenge” victory.
“For most people across this country, there was nothing more important in the Olympics than this game,” she said. “Other sports don’t matter like this.”
Ricardo Rocha, 26, drove five hours from his hometown of Campinas in the Brazilian state of São Paulo to join nearly 80,000 fans attending Saturday’s game.
Rocha, donning a green and yellow track suit with a Brazilian flag draped over his back, said he used his full-time salary as a software engineer and a Portuguese teaching job to help pay for nearly a dozen tickets to Olympic events this month.
But when his home country failed to score a goal in shutout ties against South Africa and Iraq, he went home on Aug. 10. Between a lackluster performance at the Copa America tournament earlier this summer and what appeared to be another letdown in the Olympics, the team was “a disaster,” Rocha said.
“No one really believed our men’s team was going to do anything in this tournament,” he said. “We were more excited about the women’s team.”
Inside the filled Metro station next to Maracana Stadium, Marcos Antunes, 29, and a group of nearly two dozen beer-drinking friends and strangers sang, shouted and chanted for their victorious national team after the victory.
When the group stepped into the metro car headed for Rio’s Copacabana Beach, they continued, jumping and smacking their hands forcefully on the ceiling and windows, to the delight of hundreds of other smiling fans in the area.
“I’m Brazilian, with much pride and much love,” a chant from Antunes’ group proclaimed in Portuguese.
“This is how Brazil should be,” Antunes said. “We really needed something like this.”