Brazil thrived amid an atmosphere charged by protests

Posted by Tim Vickery

In Salvador, for Thursday’s game between Nigeria and Uruguay, I missed part of the second half of the Brazil-Mexico clash when my hotel suffered a power cut.

- Brazil protests photo gallery

It is an eloquent symbol of the times – times in which writing about football seems strange. Large swaths of Brazil’s population are out on the streets reminding the authorities that they should not be thinking about the extra (impressive but vastly expensive soccer stadiums) when the country is so lacking in the basic (public transport – the catalyst for the waves of protest – education, health, infrastructure in general). Opinion polls give them 80% support from the Brazilian population.

The protest movement is so diverse, with so many grievances, that keeping it together will not be easy. But the vast majority of the grievances can be placed under one umbrella – the way the citizen is (mis)treated by the state. This makes the Confederations Cup an appropriate rallying point for the protesters.

No one in their right mind could justify the way the country has organised its World Cup preparations. First came the explicit promise that all of the money spent on stadiums would be private. Then, in practice, came the exact opposite. No debate, no explanation, no apology – just the usual high-handed arrogance from the Brazilian authorities.

But what about the players? Protestors in Sao Paulo chanted songs in which Neymar's huge salary was unfavourably compared with the earnings of a schoolteacher. Top footballers are often seen as part of the system.

But on the other hand, the vast majority of them were born on the other side of the tracks. They knew from their own childhood the experience of spending two hours crawling through a city on an overcrowded bus. So are they seen as representatives of the people, or as stooges of the power structure?

The cynical answer would be that it probably depends on results. If Brazil lose then the players will be accused of being mercenaries more concerned with stuffing their bank accounts with European clubs than with representing their country.

But they kick off with some credit accumulated – as we saw in Fortaleza, before the game against Mexico got underway. There was a powerful moment in Fortaleza when the music for the Brazilian national anthem came to a close and the crowd kept singing, in greater voice than ever.

Some of the players referred to it afterwards as one of the most important moments of their career. It clearly inspired an electric start from the hosts, who played an exhilarating opening 15 minutes in an atmosphere obviously charged up by events currently taking place all over the country.

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