Everyone's excited about the World Cup, except Brazilians

Everyone's excited about the World Cup, except Brazilians
Demonstrators burn a FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 leaflet during a protest against the upcoming FIFA tournament in Rio de Janeiro.

Home of Carnival and 'the beautiful game', as football legend Pelé once famously referred to his country, Brazil finally had the economic, political and social stability to host the tournament for the first time since 1950. After decades during which its soccer prowess out-dribbled its development, Latin America's biggest country - not to mention winner of five World Cup titles, more than any other nation - could at last flout its success both on and off the pitch.

But just days before kick-off on June 12, Brazil feels anything but festive: the economic boom that catapulted 40 million people out of poverty in the last decade, and motivated Brazil to host the world's most popular sports event, has waned.

With rising inflation, urban gridlock and soaring crime as a backdrop, protesters over the past year have rallied against US$11bil (S$13.8bil) in World Cup spending and alleged corruption that drove up the cost of building stadiums and other infrastructure projects, some of which were never delivered.

Sportscasts on team strategy, prevalent before previous World Cups, are splitting air time with news reports featuring soldiers and police deployed in 12 host cities to ensure that labour strikes, demonstrations and crime don't disrupt the tournament.

At its most telling, the lack of enthusiasm is evident on sidewalks, squares and corner cafes. Absent of the riot of yellow and green that normally erupts every four years, many public areas remain remarkably staid even as Brazil prepares to host an event that it always celebrated from afar.

"People are disgusted," says Mariana Faria, the owner of a party supply store in central Rio de Janeiro, where sales are 40% lower than when the last World Cup took place in South Africa four years ago. "Nobody wants to spend money on something now associated with waste and corruption."

The pall over Brazil counters what global soccer fans expect to be a month of sheer sporting extravaganza. And it could be that Brazilians will perk up if their team starts to dazzle.

The tournament, the first in which all previous Cup winners have qualified, will feature almost every major star in the game - from Neymar, Brazil's young hope, to Lionel Messi, the Argentine considered by many to be the era's best player, to Cristiano Ronaldo, the cocksure Portuguese who would argue otherwise.

The dour mood is also a far cry from what most envisioned when Brazil secured hosting rights in 2007. Back then, organisers hoped the prevailing narrative would be that of a resurgent country with a national team poised to exorcise Brazil's historic loss to Uruguay in the final stages of the 1950 tournament at Rio's Maracanã stadium, also the venue for this Cup's final.

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