MANAUS, Brazil (AFP) ―From the Amazon rainforest to Brazil’s vast northeastern coast and bustling cities, throngs are gearing up to finally celebrate, and protest, the World Cup.
The tournament kicks off with Brazil taking on Croatia in the business hub of Sao Paulo on Thursday before teams from 32 nations criss-cross 11 other cities scattered across the massive South American country.
The Amazon jungle, the colorful colonial city of Salvador in the northeast, Rio de Janeiro’s storied beaches and the cattle-ranching south offer a series of postcard-worthy sites for hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors.
|South Korean national soccer team head coach Hong Myung-bo looks on as the players take part in a training session in Foz do Iguacu, Brazil, Wednesday. (Yonhap)|
In notoriously humid Manaus, an Amazon basin city where England will take on Italy at the Amazonia Arena on Saturday, locals say there are two seasons: “Summer and hell.”
“If they (England) want to run more than the ball, they won’t be able to cope with it,” former Brazil star Dada Maravilha told AFP.
“You have to rest, and circulate the ball, because up there the sun is like a blow to the head,” he said.
The decision to build a World Cup stadium drew criticism because of the city’s remote location ― it’s in the heart of the jungle ― and lack of football tradition (the best team is in the fourth division).
“Brazilians love football everywhere in the country,” insists local lawmaker Luiz Castro. “When Brazil plays, Manaus will come to a standstill.”
Downtown, street vendors sell jerseys and souvenirs in Brazil’s yellow and green colors while murals were painted to mark the occasion like in other Brazilian cities.
George Buiati, a hotel manager, said residents of Manaus had criticized the World Cup as other Brazilians who have protested in anger at the tournament’s 11 billion price tag.
“But now they are happy and proud to be part of it too,” he said.
Brazilians livid over World Cup spending plan to hold protests in several host cities on Thursday, seeking to keep a spotlight on their demands for more money for hospitals and schools.
The split between fans and foes of the World Cup is visible in the northeastern city of Fortaleza.
Last year, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters during the Confederations Cup, a World Cup dress rehearsal.
This year, residents turned a street into a sea of green and yellow to celebrate the World Cup.
“When a few of us started, just us organizers, initially a lot of people didn’t want to participate,” said Claudio da Salva, a resident who organized the decorations. “But when we started, and it started looking good, they joined in.”
But around the corner at the end of the street, there is little evidence that the World Cup is happening. No decorations, posters or footballs are in sight.
Adriana Macambira, who runs a carpentry shop with her father, was appalled that it cost $230 million to build Fortaleza’s stadium, where Uruguay will play Costa Rica on Saturday.
“It should be spent on public health,” she said. “Hospitals are decaying and people are in need.”
“I’m not excited nor satisfied about the World Cup. We’re supposed to be enjoying the benefits, but we can’t,” she said, complaining that the city is also plagued by crime.
But on Emilio Sa street the residents can’t wait for kick-off. Ask them who will win the World Cup, and they chant in unison, “Brazil!”