Fabiana stretched out in her hammock in the hot, humid June afternoon, and closing her eyes, clasped the lotto ticket firmly to her youthful bosom, then took it to her mouth and briefly kissed it. Sinking back into rough fabric, she crossed herself, mumbled a short prayer and then opened her eyes. She gazed longingly at her wall, where crumbling cement and brickwork was peppered with scores of magazine cuttings of Manchester United and England international footballer, Wayne Rooney.
Fabiana sighed, then reached for a coin in order to scratch off the first of 9 metallic discs, each printed with an identical charcoal-grey silhouette of the famous Jules Rimet trophy. Before she could scrape at one of the dull moons, Bianca, her sister, burst through the multicoloured bead curtain and into their humble favela home. Even though privacy was almost impossible in such cramped accommodation, Fabiana nevertheless lifted herself up and attempted to secrete the lotto ticket she’d found between her ample bum and the rough hessian of her hammock.
Later on that evening, Jorje, Fabiana’s father, left the beach and began to make his way slowly into the chaotic, ramshackle and vibrant favela. He smiled as he greeted his many friends and neighbors, despite a fruitless day’s work. For thirty years, Jorje had raked the sand for lost treasure on Rio’s beaches. He’d raised a family on the proceeds. One time, he found a gold ring with a single diamond, the proceeds of which had kept them all fed, clothed and contented for months. But today, as the evening sun began to fade, the sea had given up none of her treasure.
Jorje truly loved trawling the beaches, strangely meditative as it was, but it had been days and days since he’d seen any hint of gold. He longed for the sand to wash through his improvised raking basket and reveal another glimmering gold ring, bracelet, or diamond broach.
Now, as Jorje turned the last corner into the last alley, and brushed the beads into home, Fabiana rushed to greet him.”Papa, papa I won! I won! I am going to the World Cup final!” In her hand she waved furiously a denuded lotto ticket, exposing a full house of nine gleaming gold cups. The winning ticket. The smile on Fabiana’s face was a beacon of joy, but even as Jorje’s face also lit up with his gentle, kind smile, there was a sadness in his heart. He knew he would have to tell her straight away.
“Fabiana, my angel, I love you so dearly, but I’m sorry, you cannot go to the World Cup final. If we do not pay our debts, you know they will come for us. But if we go to the hotels, we can get thousands for this ticket from the tourists. We must sell it.”
Slowly, Fabiana’s face faded from joy to disbelief, then crumpled as fat tears began to roll down her cheeks. She ran to her hammock, fighting off Bianca as her elder sister tried vainly to comfort her weeping sibling. So far, neither of them had been forced to go with a tourist, but Bianca knew very well the thin line between dignity and desperation.
Hodgson’s boys had done well. Damn well in fact. Roy’s combination of experience and youth, and some excellent tactical substitutions had powered the ever more confident England team right through to the semi-finals [of the Brazilian World Cup]. Gerrard’s midfield play had been the axis, forging a link between a solid defence and a lethal attack. At the front, Sturridge tallied four sensational goals while Joe Hart saved two crucial penalties at the rear. Now, all that stood between England and the final with Brazil was a simple victory over Germany.
Once qualified, Hodgson had sanctioned an early morning beach jogging session for the team, mainly a photo-opportunity to slake the British media’s thirst. The idea was to deflect the hacks away from any closer intrusion, effectively shielding the players for the remaining time while they prepared to slay the dragons of the past and reach the final for the first time in 48 long years. The England entourage arrived at the secluded Rio beach and the players exited their coach in bright England track suits and with iPods in their ears, relaxed yet brimming with an aura of expectation and confidence.
As Wayne Rooney loosened up, he gazed across the azure, sparkling sea and wondered if he too would be able to finally make his mark. His supporting role had been widely acknowledged as a key plank in England’s campaign, but as yet he’d failed to score. When the beach session ended, he wandered along the shoreline alone, bag slung across his back. It was then he noticed his watch was missing.
Jorje arrived at the beach just as the England coach drew off. It was nearly 6:30am, a little early for George, admittedly, but today he smelled opportunity in the sea air. More relaxed since Fabiana’s amazing good fortune, Jorje’s instinct for success was rekindled. Something told him that today would be a good day for lost treasure.
“Hodgson’s team are desperate to pull something out of the bag now” screamed Motson to 40 million viewers, as the clock ticked towards 90 minutes. It was 2-1 to Germany and England were heading out of the World Cup. The German team launched yet another dangerous attack, only to be deflected by Hart for a corner. Quickly taken, the ball swung in menacingly, but the recalled Terry headed it safely into Joe hart’s arms. Wasting no time, Joe cleared the ball with a massive punt right into the heart of the German defence. Rooney ran furiously past two German defenders and with a single kick launched a searing shot into the top left corner of the net. 2-all! “My, my. I think I do believe in miracles after all” shouted Motson hoarsely, having almost lost his voice by now.
Extra time was a tense affair, neither side achieving the break-through goal. Once again it was down to penalties and England faced their greatest demon head-on. Hodgson had already decided that if it came down to it, it would be Rooney to take the final penalty kick, reasoning that his hunger for glory would see him through the nerves. At three-penalties-all, it was Germany up to take the fourth. Hart saved spectacularly to give England the advantage. Next, Gerard stepped up to the penalty area, carefully positioned the ball, and drilled home. 4-3 to England. Germany scored the next, 4-4. England were now just one kick away from the final.
Behind the goal, Bianca distracted steward #4204 quite easily, simply by removing her top, as Fabiana snuck behind the bedazzled, bossom-smacked official and readied herself for a one-woman pitch invasion. Win or lose, she was determined to meet her hero and make her mark on him. Her Papa had finally struck it lucky – a gold watch had appeared in his raking basket yesterday morning. Not only that, he’d traded her winning ticket to the cup final for two tickets to the semi-finals, plus a big sum of cash, meaning together with the watch the family was now safe. And Fabiana would get to see her beloved Wayne, even if England didn’t make it to the final.
The whole of England sat on the edge of their seats as Rooney walked slowly up to the penalty area. Completely focused, he planted the ball firmly on the scuffed penalty spot. Taking his run-up, he lifted his head toward the goal, and with a mystical look in his eye, stared down the yawning chasm of glory or humiliation that lay ahead, and thundered in. Then, as if an invisible chord had tugged at it, the FIFA world cup ball bobbled slightly on its spot, a split-second before Wayne’s bright orange boot made contact.
Rooney sliced and England winced.
As Rooney’s bungled shot headed inexorably beyond the right goal post, Fabiana, who’d removed all of her clothes by now, dodged the last official behind the goal, and headed straight into the penalty area. “Wayne Rooney, I loooooooooooooooooooove you” she screamed at the top of her voice, breasts bouncing maniacally to some berserk Brazilian samba. She yelped as Rooney’s mis-cued ball smacked solidy into her right buttock, then bobbled onto the grass, rolling with excruciating slowness past the prone German goalkeeper’s outstretched glove, and finally over the line.
England fans everywhere erupted with joy. Half the German team collapsed to the ground, head in hands, while the remainder crowded the referee in desperation. Rooney lay flat on his back, arms outstretched, grinning from ear-to-ear. Fabiana jumped on him, smothering her hero, followed by an ecstatic England team who piled on top of her. Bianca grabbed beaming steward #4204 and kissed him squarely on the mouth. Roy Hodgson produced the finest happy owl impersonation of his entire career.
“You have to say, that was magnificent” croaked Motson.
© Simon Atherley, July 2014