SINGAPORE: There’s just something special about Brazil. Home of the great Pele, land of the legendary Joga Bonito, nation of the ubiquitous yellow, green and blue.
But in recent times, romanticism has faded into reality, and the Selecao’s star has dimmed ever so slightly.
On Thursday (Oct 10), the Brazilians notched an unfamiliar result in familiar surroundings as they drew 1-1 with Senegal in an international friendly at the Singapore National Stadium.
Yet despite having won twice in as many visits to Singapore, it wasn’t just the result that was the most striking.
Rather, it was the empty seats.
Back in 2014, a crowd of more than 50,000 witnessed Neymar’s magic as Brazil crushed Japan 4-0.
And this time round, the bling-wearing, stepover-throwing, opinion-dividing superstar was once again back in town.
In addition, there was flair in the form of Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino and Bayern Munich’s Philippe Coutinho, and force with the likes of Manchester City’s Ederson and Paris Saint-Germain’s Thiago Silva.
But the upper tiers of the stadium remained glaringly empty. The total attendance was about 20,600 - paltry by Brazilian standards.
And close to an hour before kick-off, it was more Anfield than anything else, as the Liverpool fans made their presence felt - strains of You’ll Never Walk Alone wafting from the stands.
Fittingly, it was Liverpool man Firmino who put Brazil in front after just nine minutes.
A powerful run down the right from Jesus saw him feed Firmino, and the Liverpool forward burst through to deftly flick past Senegal custodian Alfred Gomis.
But Senegal were no pushovers - the African side showed their confidence on the ball and were not afraid to play out from the back, teasing the Brazilians with tantalising glimpses of the ball, only to hold on to possession.
Firmino’s club teammate Sadio Mane almost brought his side level 15 minutes later, but his shot only found the palms of Ederson, who gathered at the second time of asking.
Senegal continue to carve out several half-chances - a dangerous Ismailia Sarr cross was headed clear before Ederson gratefully smothered a header from the resulting corner.
They finally got their reward one minute from half time, a powerful run from Mane on the left could only be stopped illegally by a despairing Brazilian tackle.
Striker Famara Diedhiou tucked away the resulting penalty to the glee of the Senegal supporters in the stands.
A young PSG jersey wearing pitch invader was the highlight at half time, but he, like Neymar, failed to make much inroads before being promptly shepherded away.
Mane continued to be the scourge of the Brazilian side after the break, as another lung-bursting run from the Senegal star brought yet another crude challenge in the 58th minute.
But Senegal failed to take advantage of the subsequent freekick and Tite’s side gratefully cleared.
Neymar had his chance minutes later, after Jesus was blatantly tugged back just outside the box. But the PSG man could only direct his dipping effort over, to his disappointment.
A long range shot from Mane six minutes from time almost handed Senegal what on the balance of things would have been a deserved victory. But his piledriver struck the post, with Ederson at full stretch.
Peppered by niggly fouls and refereeing decisions that drew the ire of both sides - the game petered to a close.
But there was one bright spark - a Mohamed Salah doppelganger in the stands - who drew loud cheers and rapturous applause.
Brazil couldn’t get their win, but the Liverpool fans had gotten theirs.