When enough goals are scored in just three games in a single stadium to make the video above, it is easy to wonder if mysterious forces may be at work. During the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, fans at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Bahia, have seen an avalanche of goals: Netherland’s historic 5-1 victory over Spain, Germany’s 4-0 destruction of Portugal, and France’s 5-2 thumping of Switzerland.
Of all the stadiums that have hosted more than one FIFA World Cup match, the average number of goals at the Arena Fonte Nova, 5.66 per game, is the third highest in history. Only the St. Jakob stadium in Basle, Switzerland (7.33 goals per game) and the Idrottsparken in Gothenberg (6.33 goals per match) have seen more goals during a FIFA World Cup. In an era when marking is tighter, players are stronger and there is often little space on the field, it is an almost supernaturally high figure. It seems as though perhaps a higher power has pointed his or her finger at the Fonte Nova and blessed the stadium.
“Anyone who knows Bahia, the infectious happiness of its people, and the energy that seems to sprout from every corner of the land, won’t be surprised by the fact that the stadium has the highest number of goals of this marvelous World Cup, and has seen some of the best, and most competitive games,” Governor of Bahia Jaques Wagner told FIFA.com. “It is as though all the saints in the world, and all the gods of football, have come to watch the games with our fans, who are, without a doubt, the most passionate in the vast and beautiful country of Brazil.”
Where does the blessing come from?
During the long period in which slavery was a tragic part of Brazilian society, Bahia was one of the main landing points for slave ships coming from Africa. Yet it was not just freedom of movement that the slaves were denied. They were also refused their religious freedom and were banned from professing their faith or praising their orishas – the gods of the Yoruba people that represent the fundamental elements of nature.
Eventually a group of slaves resolved to find a way around the ban. They did so by allocating a saint of the Catholic Church, the official state religion throughout the period of slavery, to each orisha. As a result Bahia, and more specifically Salvador, became an epicenter of religious syncretism: a fusion of the elements of candomble and Catholicism. Over time society changed, and in 1888 slavery was abolished. When forced to decide between the two religions, Bahia ended up choosing both.
But this is not merely a question of simple demographics. Devotees of umbanda and candomble remain a minority in Bahia. Yet the cultural heritage that developed during the era of slavery has become an essential part of the culture of the state of Bahia, and the city of Salvador in particular. Starting with the ribbons of the Nosso Senhor do Bonfimchurch, many of the traditions and tourist attractions of the city are directly related to African religions and their relationship with Catholicism. It is no coincidence, after all, that the city is perched on the edge of the Baia de Todos os Santos – All Saints Bay.
All that those visiting the city for the FIFA World Cup need to do to see evidence of the city's religious history is to look beyond the stands of the Arena Fonte Nova. There, floating on the surface of the Dique do Tororo lake, are eight orisha statues - Oshun, Ogun, Oxossi, Shango, Oxala, Yemanja, Nana and Iansan.
Salvador is a mystical place for everyone, and it has been blessed with the best possible gift for every football fan: goals. The stadium’s biggest test, however, will come on Wednesday, when Bosnia and Herzegovina play Iran. Between them the two teams have scored one goal in four matches, resulting in an average of 0.25 goals per game.
Still, who knows what effect the Arena Fonte Nova blessing might have?