As Brazil advances in World Cup, fan tension is rising. (And now Neymar is hurt.)


Benjamin Constant Street in Rio (Dom Phillips/The Washington Post)

RIO DE JANEIRO — The streets of Rio de Janeiro lit up with sound and emotion as the Brazilian national team beat Colombia, 2-1, in Fortaleza to advance to the World Cup semifinals. The thump of hip-hop, the clatter of samba and the walloping bass of Brazilian funk mingled with fireworks and horns, but the sensation was as relief as joy.

Brazil cannot accept the prospect of not winning a sixth World Cup. And it is as much the fear of losing as the prospect of winning that is galvanizing the nation, especially after its ragged, nervous and unbearably tense win over Chile on penalty kicks last Saturday.

Friday’s victory, which looked threatened as Brazil hung on to its lead during a hard-fought five minutes of stoppage time, takes the country one step closer. “It was suffering,” said Junior Ferreira, 28, a Brazil fan.

(Dom Phillips/The Washington Post)
(Dom Phillips/The Washington Post)

As mid-winter temperatures approached 90 degrees Friday afternoon, Rio spilled onto the streets where its inhabitants spend so much of their time. This was yet another public holiday. Television sets balanced on tables next to improvised barbecues and coolers full of beer. As kickoff loomed, there were very few on city streets not wearing green or gold. That included children and dogs.

In the central Rio neighborhood of Glória, Benjamin Constant Street — winner of a contest for most beautiful street in Rio for its patriotic ribbons and buntings — was the site of a free party paid for by the competition sponsor. Ferreira was among the thousands who gathered on cobblestone steps painted green and gold to watch the game on big TV screens mounted on a truck and to enjoy free hot dogs and a barbecue.

Brazil had woken up tense and apprehensive on Friday. Many are beginning to feel the pressure of this World Cup — a World Cup it wasn’t sure it even wanted, and now, having been captivated, wants to win so badly that it hurts. “We really want the sixth title,” Ferreira said. “Now, it’s concentrate.”

His neighbors were just as jumpy. “I’m nervous as hell,” said Ricardo Balbi, 59, hours earlier, standing by the TV truck. He was one of the Benjamin Constant Street residents who had chipped in to pay for a cartoon mural of the national team on a wall — then paid a little extra for a cartoon of himself and family beside it.

He was wearing a yellow Brazil T-shirt with his name on the back. “It is a lot of pressure. And in 1950, we lost,” he added, referring to the defeat vs. Uruguay in the World Cup final at Rio’s Maracanã that still haunts Brazilians. “It’s time to end this.”

Fans aren’t the only ones feeling the strain. Local media has been full of reports of the psychological battle the team is fighting — photos of an emotional Coach Felipe Scolari consoling his overwrought captain Thiago Silva after last Saturday’s win flew around social media and news sites.

Fabio Cannavaro, a former defender for the Italian national team now working in Brazil as a sports television commentator, said dismissively: “I have never seen a team cry so much on the pitch.” His comments were widely circulated.

Silva defended himself in a news conference in Fortaleza on Thursday. “In psychological terms, we are well. When we give ourselves to something we love, it’s normal that we discharge it. The pressure to win is very big,” he said, in comments reported by the Web site UOL. He scored Brazil’s first goal against Colombia, and his team played a noticeably tougher game — with the will and force that Brazilians call “garra” — literally, claw.

Despite Brazil’s macho culture, crying is not seen as a sign of weakness. “I think it’s wonderful. Men have to cry,” said Marcio Fonseca, 60, from behind the counter of his tiny video shop and cafe a few hundred yards down Benjamin Constant Street. “Men have to cry. Cry and win.”

The sense that this World Cup was becoming more serious, and that there is a high price to be paid, was enhanced by the collapse on Thursday of a bridge that was part of World Cup transportation project being built over a road in Belo Horizonte. Two people were killed and 22 injured. The bridge was over the Pedro 1 avenue, along which a bus rapid transit (BRT) line takes passengers from the airport to Belo Horizonte’s nearby World Cup stadium – where Brazil faced Chile, and will play again on Tuesday against Germany. The tragedy made front pages in Brazil on Friday. The Folha de S.Paulo newspaper added it to a deaths of eight workers during the construction of World Cup stadiums, illustrating the high social cost the tournament has had in Brazil.

With Brazil 1-0 up at half time and looking comfortable, nobody on Benjamin Constant Street was thinking about the bridge. People focused on cold beer, free hot dogs and that title. “Every game I get more nervous. With each game we are getting closer to the title,” said Ana Maria Araújo, 22. “Everyone wants the sixth,” said her friend Ana Paula Bezerra, 34.

And if Brazil don’t win it? “Ahhhhh…” replied Araújo. “Big cry.”

After the game, news broke that Neymar, Brazil’s star forward and leading goal-scorer, suffered a broken vertebra while being kneed in the back by a Colombian defender and will miss the remainder of the World Cup. Even in victory, there will likely be more tears Friday night.

 

More on the World Cup:

Brazil hangs on to beat Colombia and reach World Cup semfinals

Neymar out for remainder of World Cup with broken vertebra

Argentina’s Messi faces both Belguim and Maradona’s long shadow

Germany tops France to reach its fourth straight World Cup semifinal

World Cup live blog: All of Friday’s action

Jenkins: How I learned to stop worrying about U.S. soccer and love Colombia

Brazil vs. Argentina: South America’s storied sibling rivalry

Is the pressure getting to Brazil’s players?

Why Brazilians are so good at soccer

Fifty random thoughts about the World Cup

World Cup knockout bracket | Individual stats leaders

 

Dom Phillips is The Post's correspondent in Rio de Janeiro. He has previously written for The Times, Guardian and Sunday Times.
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