Watching the World Cup with the Brazilians

In this mural, Brazilian star Neymar stands victorious, while Argentina’s leading light, Lionel Messi, cries into his shirt on the left.

In this mural, Brazilian star Neymar stands victorious, while Argentina’s leading light, Lionel Messi, cries into his shirt on the left. Photo © Tom Le Mesurier.

Several years ago, a new phrase became part of standard Brazilian vocabulary: Imagina na Copa. The phrase roughly translates to “Imagine during the World Cup,” and it became the standard exclamation when there was a problem. It might be a bad traffic jam, localized flooding, or a transport strike—in each case, people would use this phrase to say “If you think it’s bad now, imagine how much worse it will be when we are hosting hundreds of thousands of World Cup fans.”

Then in June 2013, a series of protests over public spending erupted in cities across Brazil. These protests made global headlines and further increased Brazilians’ own fears of potential disasters during the first of Brazil’s two “mega-events.” (Rio will also be hosting the Olympics in 2016.)

As we approach the latter stages of the tournament, have the fears been realized? Have infrastructure limitations spoiled the party? How have all these World Cup visitors been treated—and are the football-mad Brazilians themselves enjoying this festival of soccer?

Two weeks before the start of the tournament, the first signs started to appear.

The World Cup effect: dull, grey steps are given a patriotic lick of paint. Flags and streamers are hung across streets, and murals are painted on any available surface.

The World Cup effect: dull, grey steps are given a patriotic lick of paint. Flags and streamers are hung across streets, and murals are painted on any available surface. Photo © Tom Le Mesurier.

And so, with the streets suitably decorated, the first day of the tournament arrived. From the Amazon in the north to the golden beaches of the south, this nation of 200 million became a sea of green and yellow. Brazilians and tourists alike huddled in front of television sets in bars and restaurants while a lucky few packed into the Itaquerão stadium in São Paulo.

As Brazil finished their opening game with a victory, the nation breathed a sigh of relief, and it was generally agreed that the tournament had started smoothly.

In the periods between matches, legions of visiting fans enjoyed the best of Brazil, climbing mountains, lounging on beaches, and seeing the sights. On match days, opposing fans enjoyed a good-natured rivalry; jeers were always accompanied by friendly grins.

Ipanema Beach, normally a hive of activity, was eerily empty as kick-off approached.

Ipanema Beach, normally a hive of activity, was eerily empty as kick-off approached. Photo © Tom Le Mesurier.

With so many visiting tourists in the country, enterprising Brazilians were quick to spot business opportunities. Patriotic pedicures became the new craze, while vendors sold flags, shirts, and novelty hats on beaches and street corners.

In the tourist hub of Rio, the main match-day parties centered on several huge screens on Copacabana Beach.

Wherever large groups of football fans congregate, a small army of vendors follows to provide everything the fans could desire, from snacks and soft drinks to Brazil’s national cocktail, the caipirinha.

At the time of writing, tournament organizers and football fans are riding high on a wave of happiness and contentment. The fears of Imagina na Copa have melted away as this World Cup has provided all the thrills, controversial moments, tense matches, and great goals that anyone could have hoped for.

Any lingering doubts about a lack of World Cup enthusiasm among the majority of Brazilians were quickly dispelled.

Any lingering doubts about a lack of World Cup enthusiasm among the majority of Brazilians were quickly dispelled. Photo © Tom Le Mesurier.

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