SAO PAULO- Brazilian fans launched fireworks, danced and breathed a huge collective sigh of relief Saturday after their team narrowly escaped an embarrassing World Cup exit.
Brazilians watching in their homes, at bars and on giant public screens exploded with joy after the Selecao won a heart-stopping penalty shootout against Chile in the tournament's first knock-out game.
They shouted " Brazil! Brazil!" from their apartment and car windows, blowing on plastic vuvuzela horns and setting off fireworks.
The country had been staring at a potential repeat of a national trauma: The 1950 World Cup final defeat against Uruguay the last time the tournament was played in Brazil.
Some also feared that defeat could have revived an anti-World Cup protest movement that has faded into the background.
As Saturday's game in the southeastern city of Belo Horizonte headed toward the penalty shootout, cities from Brasilia to Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro became eerily quiet.
In Sao Paulo, where 25,000 people watched at an official "fan fest," Brazilians bedecked in the yellow team jersey held hands or looked away in agony for each penalty shot. The few Chileans also held each other.
Screams erupted after every penalty Brazil scored, groans when they missed.
In the end, the throngs of Brazilians danced and sang.
But many were worried about the team's performance in a game that ended in a 1-1 tie and was only won thanks to the heroics of goalkeeper Julio Cesar, who stopped two penalties to send his team through to the quarter-finals.
"I don't have much confidence. Brazil need to improve a lot. Otherwise, they'll destroy our hearts," said Adriano Sacon, 40, who had made a tower of 23 empty plastic cups, one for each beer he drank during what he described as "a very tense game."
Won with 'guts'
President Dilma Rousseff, who is seeking reelection in October, expressed her joy on Twitter, writing that the game was won "with guts and the support of the Brazilian people."
"It was difficult. It was with guts, courage, tears and the defence of Julio Cesar. We won." Brazil is under massive pressure to win the trophy after a troubled run-up to the World Cup, which was plagued by stadium construction delays and record $11 billion spending that sparked protests.
Some Brazilians fear an early elimination could revive protests that have been small in recent weeks after drawing as many as one million people last year demanding better hospitals, education and public transport.
In Rio, police used tear gas to disperse hundreds of protestors outside the Maracana Stadium where Colombia defeated Uruguay 2-0.
Despite Brazil's lackluster performance, some fans were still convinced the hosts could win a record-extending sixth World Cup on home soil and bury the ghost of the "Maracanazo," the 1950 loss at the Maracana.
"My heart stopped in the second half. Now I think Brazil will win," said Daniele dos Santos, 23, wearing the yellow jersey at a bar in Brasilia packed with 200 fans.
"They had better win; otherwise everybody will remember how expensive the stadiums were and they'll protest again," Santos said.