‘Rio de Janeiro is a mes­meris­ing, in­tox­i­cat­ing place, a full-on as­sault on the senses’

. . . Michael Grant pre­views Brazil v Chile.


THERE is a taxi driver in Rio de Janeiro who has been steer­ing his cab through the wind­ing city streets while watch­ing a small tele­vi­sion fixed to his dash­board, his eyes dart­ing to­wards live cov­er­age of what­ever World Cup game hap­pens to be on.

Yes, it is ev­ery bit as ab­surdly risky as it sounds, not least be­cause he of­ten has only one hand on the steer­ing wheel while the other presses a mo­bile phone to his ear.

Tak­ing and mak­ing calls while driv­ing seems to be manda­tory for Brazil­ian cab driv­ers and si­mul­ta­ne­ously watch­ing tele­vi­sion adds a com­i­cal new level of mad­ness. It is hard to be­lieve too many health and safety laws are be­ing ob­served dur­ing all of this, but then eight days in the coun­try demon­strated that Brazil dur­ing a World Cup is a law unto it­self.

Pity any hap­less pas­sen­ger who gets in that driver’s cab at 5pm to­day (1pm Rio time), al­though the chances are he will have clocked off long be­fore that. He took us through Rio eight days ago dur­ing the ItalyCosta Rica game, which he pre­sum­ably felt he could watch with­out tak­ing any time off. To­day is a dif­fer­ent mat­ter.

Brazil face Chile in the first of the last 16 games, the open­ing knock-out tie, the first game which has the po­ten­tial to dev­as­tate the host na­tion. Hav­ing been a wit­ness to the eu­phoric bed­lam which en­velopes Brazil when the Sele­cao are play­ing – I was in Rio when they drew with Mexio last week and in Sao Paulo when they routed Cameroon on Mon­day – God knows what sort of state they are go­ing to be in if and when the team bur­rows deeper into the tour­na­ment.

As they ran four goals past the Africans five days ago we soaked in the scenes in Sao Paulo: air horns and fire­crack­ers go­ing off, people of all ages dancing in the streets, Samba mu­sic, drums, per­cus­sion, men spilling out of bars, cups of Brahma and Skol beer (the lo­cal favourites, and no it’s not the same Skol) be­ing thrown in the air. And the game it­self was 525 miles away in Brasilia.

Rio de Janeiro is a mes­meris­ing, in­tox­i­cat­ing place, a full-on as­sault on the senses. One of the things that is so in­ter­est­ing about it, for this month at least, is the in­cred­i­ble num­ber of people wear­ing yel­low and green.

The Brazil shirt is every­where. It must be about one in six of the pop­u­la­tion, one in eight at the very least, who are go­ing around in the great ca­nary yel­low shirt with green trim. Kids, men, women, the el­derly, restau­rant staff, bar work­ers, driv­ers, shop as­sis­tants: all are liv­ing, breath­ing tes­ti­mony to the na­tional ob­ses­sion.

Each of those shirts has five stars which el­e­gantly arc over the badge of the CBF, the Con­fed­er­a­tion of Brazil­ian Foot­ball. Each wearer longs for their clothes to soon look out of date. Brazil are four vic­to­ries away from hav­ing to ap­ply a sixth star, if 2014 can be added to 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002 as one of their World Cup-win­ning years.

They have not touched any great heights over their three matches so far but no other na­tion has been con­sis­tently ex­cel­lent ei­ther and a Brazil team play­ing on home soil is a pow­er­ful, el­e­men­tal force. The last time Brazil lost a com­pet­i­tive home game was against Peru in the Copa Amer­ica semi-fi­nal first leg. In 1975.

Chile could knock them out. Their small, dy­namic team bursts with en­ergy and pa­tri­o­tism. Clau­dio Bravo has had a fine cam­paign in goal, Gary Medel an­chors their mid­field, Ed­uardo Var­gas, Ar­turo Vi­dal and the mag­nif­i­cent Alexis Sanchez do not give de­fend­ers a mo­ment’s peace.

Their vast, vast sup­port bel­lows out their na­tional an­them like noth­ing you have ever heard. They did against Spain and the Nether­lands, at least.

The num­ber of Brazil­ian shirts in the stands dur­ing ev­ery game of this World Cup has made it seem like each fix­ture has two teams and three sets of fans.

There were hun­dreds of tick­et­less Chile fans out­side the Arena Sao Paulo on Mon­day and they will have faced an almighty strug­gle to find a way into this af­ter­noon’s game (Brazil knew they would be play­ing in this one if, as ex­pected, they won Group A, so their gi­gan­tic sup­port has had months to snaf­fle up all the tick­ets). Tick­ets have been touted for al­most £1200 on the black mar­ket.

On that sea of yel­low jer­seys one num­ber, and one name, is printed far more than any other. Pele, Zico, Ri­valdo, Ronald­inho and Kaka have all graced the No.10 shirt and now it is Ney­mar Jr’s time. Brazil have five stars on their shirts but only one in them.

Ney­mar might look and oc­ca­sion­ally act like a bit of twerp, but that cann ot dis­guise his skill, bal­ance, pace and fin­ish­ing abil­ity. More im­pres­sively, he has han­dled the unimag­in­able pres­sure of be­ing Brazil’s poster boy and her one chance of lift­ing the cup.

He has scored four of their seven goals. He has de­liv­ered.

Only one op­po­si­tion player scored against Brazil in the three group games, though (Croa­tia’s con­so­la­tion in their 3-1 de­feat was a Marcelo own goal) and Thi­ago Silva leads a de­fence which has been hard to pen­e­trate.

Chile took down Spain but the Brazil­ian jug­ger­naut looks just too big for them. When he should have his eyes on the road, that Rio taxi driver will be look­ing to the quar­ter-fi­nals.

Pic­ture: Reuters

DESTINY: Brazil are four wins away from adding a sixth star above the badge on their shirts.

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