Football: Playing at home a double-edged sword for Brazil

RIO DE JANEIRO (REUTERS) - It took the Maracana crowd 12 minutes to lose patience and jeer one of their own players and when coach Luiz Felipe Scolari made a substitution early in the second half, he was greeted with a resounding chorus of "donkey, donkey".

Brazil's 2-2 draw with England on Sunday was a warning for next year's World Cup hosts that playing at home could be more of a hindrance than a help as they aim for a sixth world title.

Sunday's match, which finally re-opened Rio de Janeiro's Maracana after a US$500 million (S$632 million) refurbishment, also suggested that Brazil's real fan culture will not be witnessed at next year's tournament.

Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke tweeted about the "excellent atmosphere" but it was nothing like the fireworks, ticker tape, samba drums and flag-waving of a Brazilian club match.

Sunday's ban on musical instruments seemed to confirm the suspicion that a side effect of next year's World Cup would be the gentrification of Brazilian stadiums.

Instead of the raucous reception which greets teams at important matches, the 66,000 crowd took photos on their mobile phones and banged together inflatable plastic seats.

Parts of the game were played in near silence but the real worry for Brazil was the reaction of the fans when things did not go their way.

The first boos were heard after only 12 minutes when forward Neymar sent a shot high and wide of the goal. The crowd heckled and whistled his fellow striker Hulk for most of the match and chanted the name of Lucas, making it clear they wanted the Paris Saint-Germain player to take his place.

They eventually got Lucas early in the second half, but he replaced playmaker Oscar instead of Hulk which earned jeers around the stadium for Scolari and the "donkey" chorus which is dreaded by all Brazilian coaches.

"There was some unhappiness because one player was taken off early and but I don't expect the fans to understand every situation," said Scolari diplomatically.

Brazil were also booed off the pitch in their previous home game, a 2-2 draw with Chile in a friendly in April, and the phenomenon is far from new.

Their past record and reputation means that expectations have been raised unrealistically high, supporters apparently failing to recognise that other countries, especially Brazil's neighbours, have progressed.

They also seem unable to grasp the concept that the type of football Brazil produced in the 1970 and 1982 World Cups is not possible against modern marking.

On the last occasion Brazil hosted a major tournament, the Copa America in 1989, fans in Salvador boycotted their group matches because they failed to include a local player in the squad. Cafu, who played at four World Cups, never forgot the way he was vilified by the Maracana crowd during a 1-0 friendly defeat by Argentina in 1998.

Recent World Cup qualifying campaigns have also seen the team struggle against the weight of expectation.

In the 2002 campaign, Brazil initially elected to play all their home games in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

But, following a furious reaction to a 1-1 draw at home to Peru in Sao Paulo, they used an impending energy crisis in the south-east of the country and fears of possible blackouts as an excuse to move their remaining matches to less fickle regions.

Brazil won their final three home games, scraped into the tournament and went on to win a fifth world title. The feared blackouts never took place.

Brazil's qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup featured four goal-less draws in their nine home games, against Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and Venezuela. In the Bolivia match, the jeering began early in the second half and clearly unnerved the players.

To avoid making things worse, Brazil's players avoid any public criticism of the supporters. "The fans deserve our congratulations," Neymar told reporters. "They supported us until the end."