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SPECIAL REPORT: The social disquiet surrounding the staging of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil has led to some natives supporting their arch-rivals

From Paul Macdonald in Rio de Janeiro

The World Cup is here - whether people like it or not. The political and economic undertones have left a sour taste on the local palate; so much so that there is an undercurrent that reckons the country would be better off if Argentina, not Brazil, collect the trophy.

To idealistic football fans, it might destroy their idyllic image of what a World Cup in Brazil represents. Everyone should be dancing in the streets, surely? It’s not the case. The endemic dissatisfaction for this government outweighs Neymar collecting the trophy. For now, at least.

“We have a population that believes that a victory for Brazil endorses the current administration," I was told by a local journalist, who did not want to be named.

And that seems to be the general attitude. President Dilma Rousseff’s election campaign culminates in October, and the success or failure of the Selecao is deemed to have an overwhelming bearing on her success.

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If Neymar lives up to expectations, the knock-on effect might be another term of ignorance towards the needs of the many, with bus fares remaining an ongoing issue. Last summer, the price was raised by 9% for the local services, leading to much public dismay.

By the time the rest of the supporters and journalists arrive, the cavalcade of street vendors and opportunists might fabricate a feeling of togetherness, but this is a country unsure of whether it is comfortable hosting this event or not. 

Indeed, Brazilians that I’ve spoken to in the region prefer that Argentina, and Lionel Messi, are triumphant. Firstly, it would strike a blow to Rousseff’s regime, in a country where Romario is a congressman and Ronaldo, Il Fenomeno, is looking to become a politician. It would mean a government defined by an unequivocal failure on home soil is a government that is voted out at the end of the year.  

Secondly, because commentator/celebrity Galvão Bueno has long held a grudge against Argentina, to comical levels. He has decreed that this World Cup will be his swansong on the microphone, and, for the dissenters, an Argentina victory over Brazil in the final, with Messi shining, would be the ultimate gesture to the establishment.

Away from the politics, there is a feeling that Felipao, Brazil’s coach, is too loyal to certain players, and that his 2002 victory in Korea-Japan was based purely on the talents of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho.


Away from the politics, there is a feeling that Felipao, Brazil’s coach, is too loyal to certain players, and that his 2002 victory in Korea-Japan was based purely on the talents of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho. Indeed, in their most recent friendly, the team was booed from the pitch on the way to an agricultural 1-0 victory over Serbia.

Oscar, Hulk, Neymar, Fred. There is little desire to change that front four and it has bred a belief that Scolari’s team are functional, not full of flair. Every previous World Cup victory has been blessed with genius; Pele, Garrincha, Rivelino, Jairzinho, Romario, Ronaldo. If Neymar doesn’t produce, this team struggles to get anywhere close to previous generations. They may win matches, but it will be with substance ahead of style. 

Not all Brazilians are of this mindset, of course, and a considerable number will change allegiance as soon as Brazil’s first victory is on the board. Then, a groundswell of support will likely emerge, expressing their love for the country, the team, and the colours. The key is that the streets are not yet painted, banners remain inside. Is the tournament days way? In Rio, it’s not. 

But these are the floating voters that the more politically-attuned are anxious about. Political merit and football accomplishment are inextricably linked. Selecao winning their sixth World Cup might leave cities like Rio de Janeiro worse off as a result.

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