Buttons fly in Brazilian tabletop football game

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RIO DE JANEIRO
The ball goes right over the defenders and into the corner of the net. Goal for Zidane!
Well, at least a goal for a little plastic disk with the French football legend’s name on it.
Welcome to the wacky world of button football. Brazil is just as much a powerhouse in this form of the beautiful game as the regular kind played on a field.
Players stand at a special table, each with a team of 11 plastic disks about the size of poker chips.
Competitors then take turns to use a separate piece, shaped like a guitar pick, to flick their players, which then strike a small ball around the field. The result can be engrossing, involving tactics, luck and no doubt a few stars.
Alexandre Cerqueira Gil, who was playing “Zinedine Zidane,” goes every Saturday morning to meet fellow button football aficionados for pick-up games in Rio de Janeiro’s atmospheric Sao Salvador square.
“We manage to recreate most of the situations you get in football,” said Gil, a 54-year-old lawyer.
The game is played all over Brazil, as well as in a handful of other countries, but regional variations are common, meaning it can be surprisingly tricky to master.
In Rio, for example, players stick to what they call the 9×3 rule. Games last 14 minutes in two halves and the players take turns to flick the ball nine times, but only three times in a row with the same “player.”
– Technique matters –
Guarding the goal is a keeper in the form of a rectangular block, taking up about two thirds of the area of the net. Scoring isn’t easy.
“Tactically, it’s different to real football, because there are limited numbers of touches of the ball,” said engineer Luiz Carlos Pires, 54, who also plays on the Sao Salvador square.
“But the quality of your technique makes all the difference, just like in football, as well as the preparation.”
Button football is believed to have been played in Brazil as far back as 1920, but the accepted father of the game is the artist Geraldo Decourt, who published the rules in 1930 in Rio.
In 2001, Sao Paulo state’s governor Geraldo Alckmin even decreed Decourt’s birth date, February 14, as the official “button football players’ day.”
Originally, buttons taken from clothing were used for the players.
But the tokens have evolved into specially made pieces decorated with the colors of football clubs from all over the world.
Often they also carry the names or numbers of players, allowing enthusiasts to recreate legendary teams, or put stars from different eras side by side.
Some will enjoy having Neymar alongside Pele, for example, but purists say that a real button football team should be based on actual teams.
A complete game set costs around 180 reais ($48). AFP

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