Day 3 – Sao Paulo
The eyes of the world are on Sao Paulo today. Sure enough a small demonstration is broken up by riot police with tear gas and sticks. Later the ITV studio in Rio will have rocks thrown at it, and other cities will also see tear gas and masked protestors. This is a country ill at ease with itself, aware that the sport it so loves is being used to quell domestic unrest. The tax-free profits of FIFA have melded with the corruption of the Brazilian government to produce an uneasy atmosphere manifest by graffiti springing up both celebrating the Selecao and lampooning the orgy of greed.
But come what may, the World Cup will begin today and like all bread and all circuses throughout history it will sweep across the discontent, the anger, the cynicism and the fury and be another pacification force called football.
If Brazil win today that is.
We travel into central Sao Paulo, passing Croats in their red-and-white chequered shirts, and a tide of yellow and green. The feeling is still tentative, and the old town is deserted but for gangs of armoured police squads lingering on street corners waiting to crush the revolution should it dare to appear. The FanFest area is livelier – music pumps out and a small crowd gather to enter – making sure to finish their beer and coke, because FIFA rules are that no food or drink will be allowed into a FIFA area. All the locals dudes selling cans and bottles outside are disenfranchised at a stroke. Somewhat against our instincts we shuffle into the crowd and enter the dragon. Everyone is in here. Mexicans, English, Germans, Colombians, Chileans, Ecuadorians, homeless men and women, and thousands of locals. Beer is the local Brahma (no Budweiser !) This is a compromise since in Brazil beer is banned from football stadiums and events. FIFA forced them to change the law. So I guess the Brazilians insisted on their local beer) People are already drunk and it’s two hours before the opening match kicks off. The opening ceremony doesn’t appear on the big screen : instead we get a local version of Justin Beiber who causes an outbreak of fist pumping and singalong frenzy.
It’s gonna get messy here. We slide out the side and walk up the steps to a previously ear-marked bar and restaurant, securing a table next to some noisy folk from Seattle and underneath a screen, order some beer and pizza and wait for the kick-off.
I guess if you’re reading this you’ve seen the match by now. The first Brazilian goal, symbolically, was in their own net. 1-0 Croatia. The Europeans looked sharp and played direct, marshalled by world-class recently shorn midfielder Luka Modric. Neymar equalised with a beautiful shot, and it was game on. The atmosphere in the bar was fantastic.
Then the referee awarded one of the dodgiest penalties in the history of World Football and even some of the locals looked embarrassed. Neymar put it away, a Croatian goal was disallowed for a “foul on the keeper” and Oscar finished the story 3-1. The script was exposed and laid bare for all to see – Brazil HAD to win this game, for themselves, for the World Cup and for the survival of FIFA. A fix ? A referee who didn’t speak English ? We’ve seen it all before in previous trounaments where Brazil – FIFA’s bitch – have been ushered through games by the officials. Nothing new here, sponsor’s rules, advert breaks featuring Brazilian superstars have another five weeks to run. But the feeling of shame embarrassment and anger will not be shaken.
Our beautiful game has been stolen by thieves, crooks and pigs. FIFA have taken everything beautiful and turned it into a corporate whore dance of death. FIFA must be destroyed. We want our ball back.