SPECIAL REPORT: The tournament is just six days away but the city remains strangely subdued ahead of the biggest football event on the planetBy Paul Macdonald in Rio de Janeiro
The Copcabana Fan Fest is under construction on the beach. It will welcome fans in six days' time. At the moment, it is a building site.
On one side, workers recklessly hang from scaffolding on the spot where the giant screen will display the action; on the other, numerous men in hard hats drill, saw and solder against the clock to have everything in position for the influx of tourists and locals expected to watch matches from the fan zone.
At the Maracana, a huge perimeter fence has been erected. Work continues inside, readying the media zone, the ticket entrances and maintaining the walkways. Aside from a few opportunistic street performers, such as the man juggling four footballs at once in the middle of traffic, the general feeling is underwhelming.
Under Construction | Workers toil feverishly to ensure the Fan Fest on Copacabana beach is ready
Like many other elements of the Brazil World Cup, it will be a race against time to get everything in position. Some stadiums, such as Cuaiba & Porto Alegre, are still touch and go, with Fifa seemingly ready to renege on certain test protocols to ensure their venues are fit for purpose.
The media are doing their level best to generate anticipation. TV channels show football, minute-to-minute. Neymar is omnipresent. Brazil take to the field against Croatia on June 12. But the city of Rio de Janeiro, just like the fan park, doesn't seem ready - at least, not yet.
MATHEUS HARB, GOAL BRAZIL
|From one point of view, there’s the feeling that Brazil has spent too much on a frivolous matter, and allowed Fifa to appease its sovereignty, not to mention the embarrassment over the incalculable public work that won’t be ready in time.
As we are on our Presidential and Congressional election year, most of this feeling is confused with the desire of changing Brazil's future for the better, and so rising against the World Cup would be a way of starting that change.
But there are still people able to set both matters apart, and will enjoy football’s greatest event without necessarily being politically unaware, as some people love to point. We’ll see things better when the Cup kicks off.
Street traders attempt to flog World Cup memorabilia to tourists, while the workers at the Christ the Redeemer statue wear replica Brazil shirts. The areas around Rio’s famous beaches have the occasional flags and special offers to entice us into the restaurants and shops.
Yet elsewhere, you wouldn’t know how close this event really is. Most football fans are yet to arrive here and the majority of locals are still nonchalantly going about their daily lives. It is, of course, winter, and there's work to be done; jobs to go to.
There is still the sense that Brazilians remain divided about the tournament, just as they was a year ago during turbulent protests surrounding the Confederations Cup. While Brazilians are proud of their country and culture, the World Cup is considered by many as an expensive extravagance that has supplanted the need for better health and education.
A nation that should be embracing the homecoming of its national obsession is instead displaying ambivalence. Instead of the all-out celebration, the beginning of the bid to obliterate the memory of the Maracanazo and defeat to Uruguay in this very city in 1950, it seems the political undertones have left some weary. One waiter I speak to insists he hopes Argentina, and not Brazil, win the tournament.
While the demonstrations of 12 months ago haven't been seen in Rio yet, workers taking part in a subway strike in Sao Paulo on Friday morning were subjected to a barrage of tear gas from local police. The knock-on effect delayed Fifa delegates and even the Brazil national side ahead of today's friendly against Serbia. The ill-will towards this event from some quarters very much remains. Whether the people of Rio follow suit is a genuine concern.
The hope - the belief - is that this is only temporary, and that if Neymar fires Brazil out of the blocks in style, as he did at the Confederations Cup, there will be an acceptance that what's done is done. In that scenario, the goodwill towards the success of the Selecao may lighten the mood and bring out the World Cup everyone longs to see.
But the road to Rio has been damaging and draining and, at the moment, it isn't so easy to forget the sacrifices made along the way.