FRAMINGHAM — What's it like for those of Brazilian heritage to watch their national soccer team compete in an international tournament?
"How do people feel when the Red Sox play the Yankees? That is what it is like for us," said Celio Pereira, of Framingham, as he sat Friday afternoon at the bar inside the Tropical Cafe during halftime of Brazil's final FIFA World Cup group stage match against Cameroon.
"Soccer is one of the things that we do really well."
Indeed, for many fans, a soccer match that remains scoreless until extra time would be a subdued affair. But on Friday, the Tropical Cafe crowd roared to life whenever a Brazilian player as much as touched the ball while on the offensive side of the field.
Tropical Cafe, at 85 Hollis St., regularly hosts major soccer matches involving Brazil. And despite that Friday's affair was relatively meaningless — Brazil had already clinched a spot in the World Cup's knockout stage by defeating Switzerland and Serbia in its prior group matches — the restaurant was packed with fans of the team known as A Seleção.
Balloons in the traditional Brazilian colors of canary yellow and lime green decorated the venue, while the match was shown on two giant screens. A steady hum of Portuguese commentary thumped throughout the building.
"We come here because it is a real Brazilian bar — it's the best place to watch a major game in any sport, but especially for Brazil games," said Samira Galvao, also of Framingham.
Brazil is the betting favorite to win this year's Cup, and with five titles already, no team has won the sport's most elite tournament more frequently. And while soccer is the most popular sport in many countries, nowhere else is it as synonymous with the culture as Brazil.
"In Brazil, futebol is everywhere. Even the poorest children will play the game, they will tie up a bunch of old socks to make a ball and play in the street," said Galvao, who grew up in Goainia, a city of 1.5 million in central Brazil. "It's everything to us, and we know we can win the World Cup."
Tropical Cafe hosts games from Brazil's top domestic league, but the real party comes every four years for the World Cup. While Brazil didn't win on Friday — a late goal by Cameroon shocked local fans — the importance that day was not in victory, but in bringing a culture together.
"It's very important to us, because we aren't in Brazil anymore," Pereira said. "We are outside the country, and this is a time for us to get together and celebrate what we are good at. It's not just about the winning."
Winning with style
Historically, demand for Brazil's national team has not only been to win but to do so while playing with a certain flair and style. While the 1958, 1962 and 1970 World Cup teams, lead by Pele and Garrincha, wowed the world with their spectacular dribbling and daring improvisation, the 1994 Cup winners, which did so by penalty shootout and relied on conservative defensive play, are often dismissed by Brazilian fans. The 2002 team, which won the nation's fifth title behind the flamboyance of Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, was seen as a return to proper Brazilian form.
This year's edition, which dominated during qualification and breezed through its first two matches, has the fan base excited.
"We are going to win; the only team that I think can beat us is Argentina, and so we are waiting for them to get knocked out," Galvao said.
Friday's crowd at the Tropical Cafe came to life whenever a Brazil player would make a particularly flashy play, such as when forward Raphinha skillfully used the back of his heel to set up a teammate for a shot. That kind of cunning play is attractive to younger fans.
"Brazil have a great team, it's incredible just how young and how hungry they are this year," said Alex, a Framingham High School student. "We have our backups out on the field and they are better than most other nations."
Xande Santos, a junior at Wayland High who plays midfield on the school team, said his favorite player is superstar attacker Neymar. Santos describes game days for him and his family as joyous moments to spend together.
“Everyone is super-excited, we gather together and watch the games," Santos said. "We all have so much passion for the team and for the game. It’s a great time."
Santos added that much like the professionals playing for A Seleção, local players of Brazilian descent are expected to play with a certain level of flair and excitement.
“You don’t necessarily have to have that trait, but I’ve heard from friends and family that I play with that kind of style, like a Brazilian,” Santos said. “Usually when you hear about a Brazilian player, you can’t just be good, you have to have that style, that flair to your game.”
Santos said when he first came out for the school team, there was an expectation that due to his heritage, he would be a good player.
“I heard people say that since I was Brazilian I had to be good," he said. "My brother Dion, when he first came to school and joined the team, he scored a great goal in the very first game and nobody was surprised — they said since he was Brazilian that of course he was good."
Brazil will play its first game in the knockout stage at 2 p.m. Monday against South Korea.
This article originally appeared on MetroWest Daily News: Framingham Brazilian community rallies for national team at World Cup