The score is 1–1.
They have to send me in. They have no choice. I know it and they know it.
Sure enough, I get the signal from the bench.
My heart is thumping. Games don’t come bigger than this—?the World Cup quarterfinal between Brazil and France in Mexico.
I know we can win this match. But I also know there isn’t much time left.
I try to shut out the crowd, to concentrate, to breathe calmly. But it is difficult. The noise is unimaginable. Waves of sound buffet me. Half the stadium is in blue, the other half—?my half, the Brazilian half—?is in yellow.
My heart swells. I am so proud.
The lineman holds up the board.
My number is chalked on it: 10.
The referee waves me in.
I have a moment of doubt. The newspapers have not been kind. They say I am too old, too fat. What if they’re right?
There’s only one way to find out. I jog onto the field.
The yellow half goes berserk. Forget the papers. The fans still believe in me. I can hear the hope in their voices and in the frenzied samba beat.
I jog into space. Do a few jinking runs. I feel good. Fit.
Almost immediately I sense the rhythm of the game. Ebb and flow, stop and start. A quick dash, a pass, a feint, and then a flick. My teammates are a talented bunch. I am proud to be on the field with them. The yellow jerseys, the blue shorts, and the white socks. It’s magic!
I catch the eye of Sócrates. I see a drop of sweat hanging off his beard. I smile at him. He is such a poser. Imagine a professional soccer player with a thick beard and a philosopher’s name!
There isn’t much time left and the score is still 1–1. But I am so happy to be here.
I pick up the ball in my own half. Dip my shoulder and go around the Frenchman in front of me. Another is rushing in. I let him get in close. Too close. He is committed to a tackle. A quick sidestep and he is left behind. I look up—?just a glance—?and see a yellow streak racing down the field.
Branco is making a run.
I slide the ball through the middle of the field. The pass is inch-perfect.
Branco picks it up. He is in space. No one to beat but the goalie.
He keeps his head, waltzes into the box and around the goalie—?and is brought down!
We turn to the referee. There was no contact with the ball. It must be a . . .
The referee has given it. I can’t believe it. Our luck is turning. This is going to be our day. I can feel it.
All over the pitch, players in yellow jerseys are hugging each other. I see teammates pounce on Branco, who has yet to get up from where he fell.
All eyes turn to me and I remember that I, Zico, am the penalty taker. As I walk slowly forward, I debate my shot.
Right? Left? Straight?
It is important to have a plan. It is even more important not to let the goalie guess my plan.
I adjust the ball on the spot. I take my time. I know that the French goalie, Joël Bats, is more nervous than I am. He can hear the samba. He can see the Brazilians screaming my name out of the corner of his eye. The French fans, his fans, have gone quiet.
I turn around and walk away. I spin back. Take a short run up. I am going right, low and hard. That is my plan.
I see from his body that the goalie is going to his left.
I consider changing my mind.
It is not a clean shot.
Bats gets a hand to it. He keeps it out.
There is a stunned silence. Then an uproar from the French crowd. They are chanting “Vive les Bleus!” (Long Live the Blues!).