World Cup 2014: a ground-hopper’s day-by-day diary

Brazil in brief, from Dutch fans treated as heroes and one of the most extraordinary half-hours, to Fifa’s bloated Rio bubble


Salvador The previous day the Oranje had taken over the main square in Pelourinho old town, once the grim centre of Salvador’s slave trade and now a carefully tended cultural hub and tourist magnet. As at other tournaments, the Dutch FA brought a sort of travelling DJ booth, from which an overenthusiastic MC leads increasingly boozy sing-alongs of Hi Ho Silver Lining and YMCA. Local families enjoying a Sunday afternoon stroll through Pelourinho’s vibrant, pretty cobbled streets are mildly perplexed, but queue up regardless to have their pictures taken with the Holland fans in the most outlandish orange outfits.


Salvador The Costa Ricans who had taken over the hotel lobby until the early hours to commemorate defiantly their historic run to the quarter-finals have dispersed. A host city the day after its final match is an odd place as the revolving cast of visitors departs and normal life returns. Like the other northern coastal cities, it feels as though Salvador has fully embraced its role as genial host to the itinerant football tribes. As I wander down the main shopping street a trio of Dutch fans in full regalia are treated like heroes, with car horns honking, locals shaking their hands and cries of “Holanda!” out of car windows.


São Paulo A return to the slate skies and congested madness of São Paulo is disorientating after a weekend in the vibrant sunshine of Bahia. Things will get more head-spinningly weird still before the night is out. One of the most extraordinary half-hours in World Cup history sucks the air from the city as the German goals fly in. In a bar where we have paid a cover charge in return for a steady stream of small glasses of beer and plates of salgados, the mood goes from excited hubbub to tear-stained silence to mocking laughter in what feels like seconds.


São Paulo The morning after the night before, it is a public holiday and the construction workers who have been toiling outside our flat at least have a day off. The hotel was supposed to have been finished for the World Cup; a Brazil flag hanging from one of the cranes looks appropriately damp and limp. But life goes on, and at the cafe around the corner that has become a favourite breakfast haunt, the talk is of how Brazilians will be loudly backing Holland. If there’s one thing that haunts Paulistas, who were in general far more realistic than the media about the limitations of their side, more than not making the final, it is the idea of Argentina winning it in the Maracanã.


São Paulo Some of my colleagues find themselves staying in the same hotel as the Dutch. Despite their gut-wrenching defeat to Argentina on penalties, they remain accommodating. The morning before the match, Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben had happily held court in the lobby, while in the lift after it, one of the coaching staff confides he would rather have lost 7-1 than on penalties. The idea of England mixing so freely with the media would bring the FA out in a cold sweat. But breaking down some of those barriers might well be to the benefit of both parties. Not that it has stopped Louis van Gaal jousting with the press throughout, mind you.He is, however, impressively accommodating with the media.


Rio de Janeiro Back to Rio on my ninth internal flight of the tournament and not a hitch yet. It can’t help but feel criminal that this World Cup will pass by without the hosts playing in the newly rebuilt Maracanã. Just one more oddity at a World Cup that sometimes seems to have been a roaring success in spite of those who organised it. The Argentinians are surprisingly low key at first, but it soon becomes clear that their signature song to the tune of Bad Moon Rising will be the sound track to the next few days. Despite the driving rain, they keep it up on a gridlocked beachfront in Copacabana, in the bars of Lapa and at the Sambadrome that has been turned into a giant camper-van park. Their takeover of one of Rio’s sacred sites seems symbolic.


Rio de Janeiro As the hosts of the next World Cup, Russia 2018 have had a high-profile presence in Rio throughout this World Cup. At a lavish function in the art deco Copacabana Palace hotel where most of the Fifa top brass are staying, the Russian sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, on Friday night hosted Sepp Blatter, Michel Platini and others over caprioskas and canapés. It is impossible not to marvel at the contrast between the airless opulence of the bloated bubble inhabited by Fifa and its hangers-on and the vibrance of the fans walking past the heavily guarded gates. As Blatter and co make polite chit chat inside, the endless chorus to the tune of Bad Moon Rising continues in the pavement bars.

comments powered by Disqus