England lost on Saturday night – not entirely surprising – but what was, was the level of commitment and attacking effort shown by England. It tells off past embarrassments that I can barely remember such a good performance by England at a major tournament. A feel-good loss.
The place had a pounding soul to it. People from all nationalities mixed happily. A group of ill judging Americans started a USA, USA chant but were quickly drowned out by a chorus of boos. A few Englishman tried to pull an English chant out of the ashes but it fell lamely. In most areas people seemed perfectly content to put the football aside and concentrating on more pressing affairs – namely drinking. It had an edgy but energetic feel to. Nightclubs pounded out their music from the sidewalks. Bars often act more like a mini warehouses – a man standing behind a counter with a towering assortment of bottles behind him. Sold at prices that really don’t promote sensible drinking – but who cares, it’s Rio – it’s the World Cup.
We stumbled upon the Escadaria Selarón, a world famous set up steps painted by Chilean painter Jorge Selarón. Apparently they are quiet the sight but it was hard to see through the piles of people, particularly Chileans, who had congregated to sit on – and in fact some, to sleep on.
The looming figure of $12 billion hangs like a cloud over the country. I’ve been in Rio for little over a week, and haven’t remotely been to the poorest areas – but already the gap between the have and the have nots could not be more apparent. Brazil has now spent four times the amount on security as South Africa four years ago – who had arguably just as much to fear. Ground breaking facial recognition goggles being used by the police are wonderful gadgets – but when you’re struggling to feed your family – who gives a shit?
Small but violent protest were seen near to the Maracana last night as Rio welcomed its first game. Protests marched through the streets chanting “FIFA, go back to Switzerland” before reaching a security perimeter – where they were greeted with tear gas and stun grenades. There has even been reports that live rounds were fired by a few members of the police.