Hot sun, hot fun, hot girls

The Mexicans lifted their sombreros and gazed at a couple of Brazilians in bikinis dancing in the street.

The girls swayed their hips as their drumming friends kept the samba beat going.

"This is paradise, that's all we can call it, man. When Brazil play in the World Cup and we're here in Rio, it's just heaven," said Martin Garcia, a Mexican engineer with the outsized sombrero.

"We've been here for a few days. But when Brazil play, it's just different. It's paradise and there are so many pretty girls." He was starting to paraphrase Guns N' Roses songs so I peered beneath his friend's sombrero and asked for his thoughts on watching Brazil play while on Copacabana Beach beneath the stars.

"It is very simple," said Eduardo Cesaretti. "There are beaches and girls with...cinnamon skin. We love them. We love the World Cup. We never want to go back to Mexico, ever."

Welcome to the hedonistic, scruffy, loud, busy, safe but slightly saucy, world of the Fifa Fan Fest when Brazil play.

Cynicism is easy with such a sanitised cocoon of corporate control. Sponsors dominate sales, armed police patrol the perimeter fencing and visitors pass several security checkpoints for the privilege of being squashed into a private arena with inadequate sanitation.

Picture Changi Prison with a large white marquee dropped in the middle and a giant screen showing World Cup matches at each end and plastic inflatables covered in sponsors logos all over the place and that's pretty much the average Fifa Fan Fest in Brazil. But there is an air of authenticity that is lacking inside the Maracana.

Working-class Brazilians who have filled the stadium for decades, paying no more than $5 for a standing ticket, have been priced out of their own market by Fifa.

"The World Cup is for elite Brazilians, not the regular Brazilians who usually go to the local football," said Pedro Marinho, who is training to be a lawyer.


"The atmosphere you're seeing now at the stadiums is not the real Brazilian atmosphere because the real guys, the regular guys can't get in. So we all watch the games outside."

He was right. Hundreds gather around coffee shops and bars on street corners, but tens of thousands shuffle in to the Fifa Fan Fest on Copacabana Beach.

As Brazil kicked off against Colombia yesterday morning (Singapore time), the post-apocalyptic movie sets returned to Rio's avenues and boulevards as a national holiday was declared for the Selecao.

The roads were deserted, until they reached Copacabana, where people spilled from every alley and sidestreet like a Michael Jackson video.

Chaos reigned on the sand; happy, harmless delirious, communal chaos.

Kids juggled footballs, teenage girls checked their hair and posed for photos with bare-chested boys trying their luck. Beer sellers sold cans by the case, in clear defiance of Fifa's official beer policy, to foreigner, locals and out-of-towners. Germans toasted Frenchmen.

Brazilians partied with Colombians.

And the stragglers and leftovers - the Mexicans, the English, the Uruguayans and so forth - really didn't seem to be in a rush to leave either Copacabana or the country any time soon.

Fifa has estimated that more than three million people have passed through Fan Fest gates so far and at least 10,000 filed in to watch Brazil defeat Colombia 2-1.

Most of the jerseys were Brazilian. All of them contained one of only two names - either that of the jersey's owner or Neymar Jr. News of his back injury hadn't filtered through the crowd yet. They were still drinking, dancing, skating, skateboarding, singing, cheering, eating and kissing in the street.

When the final whistle went, the guttural, primeval roar of relief after a nerve-shredding contest drifted from one end of the famous curved beach to the other, drowning out the noise of the crashing waves.

"It's like a carnival here. I've been to our Rio carnival and it's just like this," said Sarah Didry, who came down with a couple of friends, dressing up in their country's colours and slapping on the face paint. "All the Brazilians and all the foreigners are mixing together. We've just been hanging out with some dancing Germans."

Well, there's a first for everything.

The omnipresent police presence both assuaged fears and reminded cynical locals that when the music eventually stops, the streets might be less safe after dark but that's a concern for another day.

The Brazilians are in the final four. They'll all return, in their thousands, to do it again in a few days.

"I'm Mexican, but I'm desperate for Brazil to go all the way," Garcia added. "Look at this place. Look at the sexy girls. Why would we ever want this party to end?"

This article was first published on July 06, 2014.
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