A Brazil defeat does not bear imagining
If the reaction to Saturday’s dramatic penalty shoot-out win over Chile is anything to go by, you will be able to hear the celebrations in Bermuda should Brazil go on to win this World Cup.
Here in Salvador, Bahia, you could feel a nation hold its collective breath as Chile’s Gonzalo Jara stepped up to take his kick and then literally explode in an outpouring of joy and relief as it hit a post, handing Brazil what, in all honesty, was a fortunate victory.
In the restaurant where we watched the game, waitresses and patrons leapt screaming into the air, hugging complete strangers, many with tears streaming down their cheeks, and ran dancing into the street. Others simply slumped in their seats, emotionally drained by it all.
Outside, where a seething mass of yellow-and-green shirts had packed the narrow streets of the Pelourinho, the city’s historic centre, in front of screens set up outside every bar and café, it was complete and utter bedlam. The drummers from Olodum, the city’s vibrant Afro-Brazilian cultural movement, went into overdrive and hours later the street parties were still going strong to a pulsating soundtrack of Brazilian funk and samba, and a cacophony of firecrackers that lasted all night.
The streets were so packed that even an hour or more after the game, we were still unable to walk the few blocks through the Pelourinho back to our hotel. After a couple of frisks from would-be pickpockets, we opted for a taxi, whose driver tried to charge us double the usual rate for the hassle of navigating through the sea of humanity.
I cannot imagine what it would have been like had Brazil lost — burning effigies of English referee Howard Webb, probably for disallowing Hulk’s goal and not giving a penalty. If the Seleção lift the trophy in Rio on July 13, Salvador and the rest of Brazil will have the mother of all parties.
Meanwhile the exuberant Americans have started arriving en masse for tomorrow’s showdown with Belgium at the Arena Fonte Nova. We could be in for another hell of a party should Jürgen Klinsmann’s team make it to the quarter-finals.
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So far, bar a small wooden sign stating “Less stadiums, more schools” on a wall near our hotel in Salvador, we have seen nothing of the protests that dominated the international media in the weeks leading up to the tournament. That is not to say the deep-rooted social problems here have been forgotten, but seem to have been temporarily put on hold as Brazilians are both engrossed by what is shaping up as one of the great World Cups and keen to uphold their reputation as generous hosts.
Most Brazilians we meet are anxious to know that we are enjoying Brazil and have been quick to help us out whenever they overhear us struggling to make ourselves understood with our limited Portuguese.
And whenever Brazil have played, stores roll down their shutters at least an hour before the game, traffic jams suddenly dissipate and local bars are packed with fans following the action.
According to Cristiane, our guide for a tour of Salvador, local protests were bigger before last year’s Confederations Cup, but as Brazil’s “capital of happiness”, residents simply cannot resist a good party. “We love Mundial (the World Cup) and it is in our culture to welcome people from all over the world,” she said. “We want everyone to see what a beautiful place Brazil is. Of course, it is a chance for us to make money. For sure we have a lot of problems and we will continue to fight after the World Cup, but now is time to enjoy.”
And while the new $270 million, 52,000-seat Arena Fonte Nova stadium seems something of an obscenity to outsiders, built across the road from a crumbling favela, she said that despite the publicly funded cost, the football-mad city generally welcomed it because the old stadium that stood on the site had to be demolished after part of it collapsed during a game in 2007, killing seven fans and injuring 30 others.
The stadium is the home of the city’s top club, Esporte Club Bahia, who enjoy a fierce cross-city rivalry with Esporte Club Vitoria, especially when they clash in the “Ba-Vi” derbies. Both clubs play in Brazil’s Serie A and have produced a number of famous players, especially Vitoria, whose youth system has produced the likes of Bebeto, goalkeeper Dida, and present-day Brazil players Hulk and David Luiz.
Such is the rivalry that Brahma, the ubiquitous Budweiser-owned “official beer of the Fifa World Cup”, even sells its brew in specially branded club cans.
Chris Gibbons is a former Sports Editor of the Mid-Ocean News and Deputy Sports Editor of The Royal Gazette.