Football-mad Brazil's World Cup ambivalence

Football-mad Brazil's World Cup ambivalence
A woman walks in front of a mural painting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - The protests, strikes and general malaise ahead of the World Cup in Brazil have been all the more surprising given the country's long-time love affair with football.

The winningest nation in World Cup history has the chance to win the tournament on home soil for the first time.

Yet Brazilians - the people who elevated the notion of the "beautiful game" to the level of art - have been visibly morose, spurning the green and yellow decorations that exploded into bloom during past World Cups.

Delays, overspending, corruption accusations, deadly construction accidents, protests, strikes, economic stagnation, shelved infrastructure projects, pre-election political wrangling - all have contributed to the country's football malaise.

But after seven years of planning, the team is finally about to take the field.

And football-loving Brazilians are increasingly eager to set aside politics and unleash their pent-up excitement.

Maria de Lourdes Pereira da Silva strolled up Alzira Brandao Street in Rio de Janeiro's Tijuca neighborhood dressed head-to-toe in green and yellow and carrying her pet rooster, Paquito Fred - who was wearing a Brazilian flag as a cape, his claws painted to match.

A die-hard fan of local club Fluminense known as "Three-Colored Granny," she has swapped the team's trademark red, white and green for the colors of the flag.

"I can't wait for the Cup to start. It will be the seventh one I've seen. I want people to be joyous, not disruptive, which shows a lack of respect for the country I love," said the retired nurse.

Ricardo Ferreira has been in charge of organising the street's famously festive World Cup decorations since 1978.

He said the middle-class neighborhood, which plans to set up a giant 28-square-meter (300-square-foot) screen to broadcast matches for tens of thousands of fans, is ready to party.

"After kick-off, we're going to forget the protests and wait for the elections (in October) to send our message at the ballot box," he said.

Anthropologist Alba Zaluar said the anti-World Cup movement is being driven mainly by university students and the upper-middle class.

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