Brazil – Copa das Copas – 3

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. Image

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.  ImageEveryone 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. Image

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. Image


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.

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Brazil – Copa das Copas – 2

Day 2.  Sao Paulo The day starts with the worst taxi journey you can imagine – you know – the one where the car doesn’t move for seven minutes at a time, when you’re watching old ladies walk past you up the road and the minutes tick away towards the time your plane is leaving. We get to Santos Dumont airport 45 minutes before our plane is due to take off, but they’re all relaxed, take our cases and let us on.  It’s a beautiful airport too. Santos Dumont airportA quick 45-minute flight down the coast to Sao Paulo – and aside from the odd FIFA representative and sundry Australian fans, you wouldn’t know that a World Cup was starting tomorrow. The country feels tense.  A year ago a million people participated in demonstrations against the cost of this tournament: imagine, Sepp Blatter and his corrupt cronies at FIFA have actually turned Brazil off of football.  There are bits and pieces of bunting but it rather feels as if a nation is holding its breath and waiting for the moment of truth. We check in to Pousada Zilah in the Jardins district, Jenny gets a migraine (from her yellow fever jab – delayed) so I walk up to the Paulista metro station and travel the new subway system into the centre of this huge city of 20 million people – the largest in the southern hemisphere. It’s bright, spacious and air-conditioned and feels very new. Disembarking at Parc Do Se I skid through the homeless, drunk and mentally ill and find XV Novembre where Lebanese merchants are selling all things yellow and green.  FIFA have established themselves appropriately in a vast bank and I go to collect our 2 legitimate tickets for the game on my birthday in Manaus next week. The FIFA girl takes my picture and explains that when we enter the stadium, my face will flash up – this to deter touts.  What if I get ill ? I ask – you’d rather have an empty seat ??  Anyway, I stroll past the Croatians making pub noise down to the viaduct which overlooks the FanFest – still being built at 7pm the night before the opening game. A father and son watch the preparations from the bridge. Fahter and son watch FanFest prep A slight sense of anticipation starts to build. I walk back past the Teatro and the buskers, more yellow and green and red-and-white checks, and a proper gathering of football people near Republicca Square, the Croat boys taking selfies with Brazilian girls, their optimism all-consuming. Back in Jardins the tree-lined avenues are relaxed and European so Jenny and I decide to eat in a beautiful Italian restaurant called Positano and decide that we prefer Sao Paulo to Rio.  We are of course experts by now. Two whole days in Brasil.