A toast to ‘Bobby’ Firmino

Caipirinha

Nearly two years ago I walked into a bar in Rio de Janeiro … it sounds like the beginning of a joke but this was serious stuff.

I was tired, homesick, bitterly disappointed and most importantly, hungry (being thirsty goes without saying … so I won’t mention it).

It was Aug 20, 2016. Lee Chong Wei had lost the men’s singles badminton final to Chen Long in the morning and with it, Malaysia’s last chance of an Olympic gold medal.

Malaysia would still finish with its best achievement in the Games – four silver and a bronze – but for many, it was a hollow success without the elusive gold.

The streets were empty as I made my way to one of the many bars close to the apartment I was staying in.

It was the football final between Brazil and Germany – the host was playing for the one major title it had never won – and everyone was either at the stadium or glued to their television sets.

Coming two years after the 7-1 clobbering Germany’s senior team had inflicted on Brazil in a World Cup semifinal, there was a feeling of dread and gloom around that Rio suburb – even though all everyone talked about in the month or so I had been there was winning the football title.

Neymar scored the moment I walked through the doors.

The sight and sounds that greeted me were simply amazing. Everyone went wild, some even looked at me and gave me the thumbs up sign as if to say I brought Brazil luck (at least, that’s what I like to think).

Like most Malaysians, I was a Brazil fan – who can forget the likes of Pele, Garrincha, Tostao, Rivelino, Carlos Alberto, Zico, Socrates, Romario, Cafu, Bebeto, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and many, many more.

Most of us have read or watched highlights of the great Brazilian teams and their passionate fans – especially their gorgeous female supporters – and to be among them, albeit at a bar, was still magical.

I ate my meal slowly while downing copious amounts of caipirinha – Brazil’s national cocktail – taking in the atmosphere as the fans “kicked” every ball and “challenged” every decision.

Germany equalised in the second half, but Brazil would eventually win the final 5-4 on penalties.

I celebrated as if it was Malaysia winning the gold medal and my love affair for all things Brazil was strengthened.

Fast forward to 2018 and the samba boys have begun their quest for a sixth World Cup title with a 1-1 draw with Switzerland – the first time since 1978 they had failed to win their opening match at a World Cup.

Die Mannschaft fared even worse, losing 1-0 to Mexico to follow in the footsteps of France (2002), Italy (2006) and Spain (2010) – defending champions who lost their opening match at the next World Cup.

All three were eliminated at the group stage and Germany surely would not want to join that club.

Russia 2018 has certainly been one for the underdogs with Iceland denying Argentina victory and the likes of Tunisia and Morocco falling to narrow defeats.

Only Saudi Arabia looked out of depth with a 5-0 hammering by Russia.

Brazil need to buck up in attack and being a biased Liverpool fan, I hope Roberto ‘Bobby’ Firmino starts against Costa Rica on Friday (8pm).

The Liverpool No 9 has blossomed into one of the world’s finest strikers and looked more dangerous than Gabriel Jesus, whom he replaced with 11 minutes remaining.

Perhaps a pairing of Jesus and ‘Bobby’ with the ineffective midfielder Paulinho dropping to the bench might spark Selecao.

Firmino has all the attributes to play either up front or just behind the striker and a change of system with him central to it, may see Brazil register a victory.

I’ll drink to that.