Brazil’s football team is doing so poorly at the Olympics that people are looking to the heavens for salvation.
Gods – from Afro-Brazilian rites known as Candomble, Umbanda and Macumba – are being invoked.
And the deities must act quickly because Brazil’s mighty men’s team could crash out of the tournament on Wednesday if they do not beat Denmark.
So far the once legendary ‘Selecao’ has managed two scoreless draws against lowly South Africa and even lower Iraq.
In Brazil, where football is a religion of its own, that’s a ghastly sin.
Helio Sillman, a follower of the Afro-Brazilian rites, staged a Macumba ritual to help the home team and its star player and team captain, Neymar.
“The Brazil team has no Olympic spirit. I am going to ask Odum, the god of strength, to give Neymar ‘good fluids’2for him to recover the desire to go all out,” Sillman told AFP.
He wore a T-shirt honoring the national side and around his neck, pearl necklaces typical of the religious rites and colored green and gold, the team colors.
Sillman has set up his little voodoo altar in a shop he runs – the name translates as “World of Divinities” – in a big market called Madureira.
The shop is brimming with more than 5,000 amulets, stuff for rituals such as drums, and small statues of gods, such as Yemanja, the goddess of the sea for those who believe in Candomble.
Neymar, doll No. 10
Sillman explains how to summon the higher powers: on a large wooden plate he places 11 dolls side by side, each one representing a member of Brazil’s team. Then, some grapes, grains of rice and sprigs of wheat, all of which represent prosperity. Finally, two candles are lit – one green and one yellow, to send light to the players.
Sillman picks up doll number 10 and moves his left leg forward, then the right one.
“This is Neymar. He runs, he dribbles,” Sillman said Tuesday. “He is going to score goals.”
Even during the Olympics, with so many sports to choose from, Brazilians only have eyes for football.
The men’s national team disgraced the country in the World Cup final in 2014, losing to Germany 7-1. It has yet to recover from that ignominy.
In the game against Denmark, Brazil will qualify for the next round with a win – lose, and it’s out. A tie means Brazil depends on the result of a game between Iraq and South Africa also Wednesday.
“The players lack inspiration, and really need ‘axe,’” said Simone Silva, a customer at Sillman’s shop, using a word meaning energy, power or strength.
Silva has purchased an earthenware plate to make an offering to her ‘orixa’ even though she is Roman Catholic.
Indeed, although Brazil is the world’s most populous Catholic country, there is always room for mixing in other faiths.
The Candomble and Umbanda rites have many followers in this South American giant of 204 million people.
Brazilians are so exasperated with the national team that many with T-shirts bearing Neymar’s number 10 have ripped away the first digit to leave just the zero.
Others have removed his name altogether and replaced it with Marta, the captain of the Brazilian women’s team, which is doing well in the Games.
Sillman is confident the gods will smile on the men’s team and bless it in the match against Demark.
“Brazilians must not be discouraged. They must support the team rather than boo it,” he said.
“It will be a new game. Neymar will have recovered his sporting and group leader spirit,” he added.