Brazil gives warm-up cold shoulder

Fans fail to get into the swing of things as government desperately hopes feel-good factor will spark during tournament.

    Brazil gives warm-up cold shoulder
    Neymar's on-field performance could have knock-on effects away from the field of play [Getty Images]

    "Brazilians have been waiting to have the World Cup here for more than a lifetime, but now nobody's in the mood," says one of the few football fans who have come to a central bar in Lapa, Rio de Janeiro, to watch the national team's final warm up match for the tournament.
    Paulo, 51, is here with his girlfriend Angela to see Brazil take on Serbia in Sao Paulo on one of the bar's screens, which earlier in the day had shown pictures of police clashing with metro workers in that same city. 

    The busy lunchtime crowd that watched those images has now dispersed, and just a handful of people are here to see the Seleção, the national team, prepare for the biggest month of their careers with a 1-0 victory.
    The second-half winner from Fred barely raises a cheer among fans preoccupied with the real-life problems besetting Brazil, with the protests that marked last-year's Confederations Cup set to recommence at FIFA's showpiece event.
    As Lapa gears up for a lively Friday night's dancing, a woman in a Brazil shirt stops at one of the bar's outside tables to beg for change from two other women watching the game. Her efforts are unsuccessful.

    Fears over tournament failure
    "If Brazil don't reach the final, there's going to be chaos," says waiter Adriano, 31, who went to school with Brazil striker Hulk in Campina Grande, a 2,300km bus ride northwest of Rio.
    "People have seen the money the government has spent on the World Cup and wonder why it hasn't been spent on hospitals and schools.
    "Brazilians are not as excited as they were about other World Cups, but once the games start we expect this place to be full."
    Adriano looks to the screen, shaking his head at what he sees as the Serbians' deliberate attempts to injure Hulk and his strike partner, Neymar.
    "Ohh … don't hurt Neymar," cries Angela at the next table. It's a sentiment that may have been expressed by another lady simultaneously a thousand or so kilometres northwest, at the presidential home in Brasilia.
    The night before, president Dilma Rousseff had mounted a defence of her handling of the World Cup as she hosted 12 foreign journalists for dinner.
    But keeping Neymar's goal-scoring limbs in full working order could be crucial in deciding whether she has a chance to build a legacy beyond 2014.
    The 66-year-old, imprisoned and tortured by the military dictatorship of the 1970s for her role in Marxist armed groups, faces a fight to convince a disenchanted population that she deserves re-election in October.

    'More than a game'
    As a factor in that happening, football is likely to be far more than a game - with Neymar a player both politically as well as on the field.
    "It might not make sense, but people think the performance of the national team is a reflection of how well the country is doing," Michael Place, an Australian journalist who has lived in Rio covering football and economics for the last six years, tells Al Jazeera.
    "If Brazil win the World Cup, then for Rousseff it's a huge political boost. Where some countries might look at GDP, in Brazil football is just as important.

    "There'll be no-one willing Brazil on more than Rousseff, for her own political survival."

    That is likely to need some match-winning performances from the 22-year-old Neymar.
    "Luiz Felipe Scolari (the Brazil coach) has built his team around Neymar, and Brazilians have totally put their faith in this guy," says Place.
    "He sums up what Brazilian football is all about: jogo bonito - beautiful play - and youthful exuberance. People are hanging their hopes on him."
    Neymar shines less brightly among his teammates at his club Barcelona, but he is the star of a workmanlike Brazil team that has been virtually unchanged since the Confederations Cup.

    In fact, the team Scolari put out on Friday night was exactly the same as the one that lifted the trophy a year ago.
    The brief feel-good factor that emerged then will have to be magnified many times over if the World Cup is to paper over Rousseff and Brazil's problems.
    A repeat of the last time Brazil hosted the tournament, when they lost the 1950 decider to Uruguay, just won't cut it.

    Paul Rhys is a sports reporter writing for Al Jazeera from the World Cup in Brazil. Follow him on @PaulRhys_Sport or go to
    Al Jazeera is not responsible for the content of external websites.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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