RIO DE JANEIRO – In yellow-and-green bikinis, Neymar jerseys and sparkling tops straight out of carnival, Brazilians dropped everything on Thursday to watch the national team open their highly anticipated World Cup 2022 campaign, exploding in celebration after their 2-0 win over Serbia.
Packed in front of a giant screen on Rio de Janeiro’s famed Copacabana beach, in the middle of what would normally be a work day, fans of all ages cheered Brazil’s Group G victory – and allowed themselves to dream of a record-extending sixth World Cup.
Standing on the seaside avenue in his Brazil jersey, construction worker Benildo Ferreira erupted in joy at the second of the two goals, both fired home by Tottenham Hotspur forward Richarlison.
“I was worried during the goal-less first half,” Ferreira, 51, told AFP, as fireworks exploded overhead.
“But Brazil are going to reach the final, and we’re going to win.”
It was an anguished wait for many in football-mad Brazil, whose fevered passion during the World Cup often draws comparisons to a nation going to war.
Milton de Souza nervously stirred his caipirinha, a cocktail made of lime juice, sugar and water, in a seaside bar as he waited for the opening goal.
“We just have to be patient,” said the 58-year-old retiree, who was wearing green and yellow – as was virtually the entire country, it seemed.
He was cautious on the question of whether the Selecao could end their 20-year title drought. “Nothing’s certain in football,” he said.
Others were already daring to dream.
“The Cup is ours this year, without a doubt,” said 23-year-old Marcos Vinicius, who accurately predicted a Richarlison brace before the match.
City centres in Rio, Sao Paulo and other hubs of Latin America’s biggest economy, meanwhile, turned to ghost towns as Brazil ground to a halt to watch the match.
Street-food vendor Kaua Suarez, 19, and three customers were crowded around a mobile phone he had propped up on his hot dog stand, watching the match in Rio’s near-deserted city centre.
“I had to work, so I found a way to watch anyway. I’m going to watch every match, no matter what time,” he said.
“Football is every favela kid’s dream in Brazil. We’re crazy about it. Brazilians are born loving football.”
Even president-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva took time out from political horse-trading ahead of his Jan 1 inauguration to watch.
He tweeted a picture of himself and his wife in national team jerseys, a TV in the background, with the message: “Congratulations Brazil. On our way to title No. 6!”
For some, World Cup fever is more of a plague.
Hotel doorman Osvaldo Alves, a slight 74-year-old with thinning white hair and a bright red uniform, was one of the few not watching the match.
“The country always drops everything when the Selecao play. We sit there watching football and don’t fix any of our problems,” he said from his post at the downtown hotel where he works.
“It’s a disease Brazil has. Brazilians are just crazy about football.” AFP