20-26 June 2014 #712

The best World Cup ever? It looks like so

As the ball is rolling across the country, the world’s biggest sporting spectacle is turning into the best World Cup ever.
Shobhan Saxena in RIO DE JANEIRO

With the first touch from a Croatian foot when the ball started rolling on the newly-laid pitch at the Itaquera in Sao Paulo on Thursday, the city of 21 million almost froze with tension in front of giant screens put all over the city. As the opening game of the World Cup saw the fortune of Brazil dip and rise, Sao Paulo felt low and high depending on which feet – Brazilian or Croatian – had the ball on their feet. But some 500 kms away, on the edge of South Atlantic ocean, the city of Rio broke into one big party, which began with the kick-off and became even wilder when the Japanese referee Nishimura blew the final whistle, with the score reading 3-1 in favour of five-times world champions.

Just 45 minutes apart by flight, no two cities can be as different as Rio and Sao Paulo. Rio is all sun and sand. Sao Paulo is all grey concrete and incessant drizzle. Before the first game of the month long tournament, as Sao Paulo was slowly getting into the futebol mood, Rio had already painted itself in green and yellow – the Brazilian colours – and samba was playing on all street corners. A week before the opening game, all bars and cafes were adorned with the Brazilian flags, a lot of streets had been painted with “Hexa Copa” (Get us the sixth cup) slogan, banners and flags were hanging from building windows and the Brazilian team jerseys were on sale on kiosks set up on streets. “The world cup has come and gone but the football is going to stay with us. We are celebrating football. It doesn’t matter who wins. Of course, if it’s Brazil, we will have tremendous joy,” says 54-year-old Joao Mendonca, sipping a beer with his buddies at a bar in the Flamengo area.

Football brings pleasure to people in Rio. Here they compose samba songs at the time of the world cup. As the players dribble the ball on the pitch, people dance on the sidewalks. As the goals are scores, they beat their drums with joy. When a game ends, they laugh and cry at the same time. “It’s not the ball that’s at the feet of players. It’s our heart which they kick from side to side,” says Mendonca, breaking into a smile.

Like any other sport, football has two sides. One is the action that takes place in the arenas: moves made, ball dribbled, goals scored, dreams fulfilled and heats broken. But there is action far from the stadiums: people watching games in bars, dancing on the streets, crying on the sidewalk and just sharing the triumphs and failures with friends and families in the comforts of their living rooms or warmth of a bars.

Last Saturday, more than 1,000 Argentines closed for the Avenida Atlantica at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro as they organised an open-air party, one day before their team’s opening game against Bosnia at the Maracana stadium. The Argentinians were in such fun mood that they even had a lookalike of Pope Francis, who is Argentine, as part of the celebrations. The “Pope”’ was carrying a replica of the world cup in his hands. There were more than 35,000 Argentinians in the city. Most of them watched the game at the Maracana. And after the Messi-led team wins, there was one hell of party on Rio streets.

And on Wednesday night, the Chileans painted the city red as their team beat Spain 2-0 at the Maracanã, graveyard of great expectations. This world and double European champions became the first team to leave the 2014 World Cup, knocked out of a major tournament for the first time in eight years.

This is turning out to be a great World Cup. Goals are raining; even own goals being scored. Penalties are being given; and a lots of yellow and red cards too. But the mood in the stadiums and the streets is fantastic. Every day begins with a party and ends with a party. As the ball is rolling across the country, the world’s biggest sporting spectacle is turning into the best World Cup ever. At least 600,000 foreign travelers are in Brazil these days, watching the games, having drinks, eating local food and just having fun. “If the World Cup in Brazil is going to be like this, just have all the World Cups in Brazil,” Jason Davis of ESPN tweeted this week. Millions of people here and billions across the world will agree with him.

Read also:

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When football comes home Shobhan Saxena

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Brazil's own goals Matt Slaughter and Janna Remes

Performance Art Matt Miller