It is said that when Brazil lost to Uruguay in the final of the 1950 World Cup the entire nation mourned. The heartbreak was so profound that a name was created for the disaster – the “Maracanaço” – in much the same way as an earthquake or hurricane might be titled.
Such is the fundamental social importance of football in Brazil. And as might be expected of a cultural phenomenon of this scale, over the years Brazilian football has developed a unique language of its own. And it’s brilliant.
Here are 15 of the best Brazilian football expressions.
“Mandou um Pombo sem asas”
Literally “wingless pigeon”, this means the player kicked so hard that the ball flew like a pigeon without wings.
“Acertou onde a coruja dorme”
Meaning “hit the spot where the owl sleeps”, it’s when a player scores by placing the ball in either of the goal’s top corners. In Brazil it’s common to see these birds resting here when there are not games in play.
“Gol de Placa”
“Plate goal”, meaning a very beautiful goal. It comes from the idea that the club would honour the scoring player with a plate because of the beautiful goal.
Literally meaning “flashlight”, this alludes to the light on the stern (back) of ship which is always looking out to the front. It’s a term given to the losing team.
The star player. The word comes from the English “crack”, once used to describe the best soldiers, but which evolved in Brazilian to apply to horse racing – a “crack horse” was a true thoroughbred.
Literally “Hat”. Not the same as a hat-trick in the UK, a chapeu is a dribble where the player passes the opponent by playing the ball over his head.
Meaning “pen”, which here is a metaphor for legs. It’s when the player dribbles the ball by passing it between another player’s “pens”.
“Gunner hill” is an irregularity in the six-yard box (less common these days) that changes the trajectory of the ball and tricks the keeper.
Meaning “Marmalade”, it refers to a match in which the players and/or managers have conspired a fix. The origin of this expression comes from a time when quince (the traditional ingredient) was rare and producers would replace some of it with pumpkins or apples, cheating the consumers.
“Balançar a rede”
“Shake the net”, obviously meaning scoring a goal.
Literally “killer”. It’s the player that scores every opportunity he has.
“Cama de Gato”
Literally meaning “cat’s bed/cat’s cradle”, in English football parlance this move is sometimes called “bridging” or “making a back”. It’s when a player jumps to head a high ball while an opponent moves to undercut him, often by backing into him. It’s a dangerous move which can cause serious injury if the jumping player lands off-balance.
“To twist”. It is when a player dribbles so skilfully past another that he leaves the opponent twisted.
Literally “chicken”, it’s when the keeper misses or drops an apparently easy catch. Have you ever tried to catch a chicken before?
Zebra is a very common expression in Brazil, referring to the team that has little chance of victory. Its origins lie in a widespread but illegal lottery game played in Brazil, where numbers are represented by animals. The zebra it is not among them, so the zebra never wins.