Globe and Mail columnists John Doyle and Cathal Kelly watched the Brazil-Mexico game from two very different parts of Rio de Janeiro. Read about Cathal Kelly's experience of watching the game in a favela.
Colleague and cohort Cathal Kelly went to watch the Brazil-Mexico match in a favela. I went to watch it with the posh and the swanks, the tourists staying in the lavishly expensive hotels in Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon, the long stretch of beautiful beaches that are postcard Rio.
I wanted to observe the Brazil World Cup experience as it is for rich visitors, the ones who were sold on the idea of flying to Rio and spending a ton on kicking back, participating in the party in the home of the beautiful game.
There were, inevitably, two very drunk Englishmen. Both 30ish, they were tipsy and bickering. They sat just a few minutes walk from the Fan Zone on the beach, unable or unwilling to get from the patio of their deluxe hotel to the actual big-screen viewing party. I asked if they’d been to Manaus to see England play Italy. “No,” one muttered. “Came on a tour. Rio. World Cup. Party. Holiday.” They looked wrecked. “Going over to the Fan Zone?” I asked. “Yeah, maybe,” one said. The other muttered “wanker” as I walked away.
The Mexicans, however, liked the afternoon a lot. There were thousands of them. Sombreros, green Team Mexico shirts, and cheery. They looked well off, accustomed to the sweet air of wealth, deferential waiters and fun bought with easy money. At the end, with the game tied 0-0 and Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa keeping Brazil at bay, those tourists were delirious, planning to stay on. As well they might.
In purely soccer terms, the Mexicans humbled Brazil. They dominated and came so close to winning. In terms of the fantasy of the Brazil experience, though, this was a let-down. The wild partying didn’t happen. There was an “uh-oh” air about the result.
Rio was shutting down an hour before the game. Stores closing, traffic dwindling. Eventually, along the beachfront paradise, only empty local buses went by.
There was authentic Brazil if you looked. At a tiny beer stand near Ipamema, the woman running the place, 50ish, hustled patrons into chairs organized around the tiny TV set. She asked us to give our drink orders and settle in. The game was starting. She stood and stared at the TV, beaming. She clapped her hands and sang along with the Brazil national anthem. She applauded when the kickoff happened.
Across the street, a gaggle of street-cleaners stopped work and gathered, peering in at the screen in the bar of the Marina Suites Hotel. One, after hesitating, offered a running commentary. He thought for a minute that most of the people on the patio bar were Brazilian. They were, after all, wearing Brazil shirts. No.
A tall, beer-gutted Dutchman smoking a big cigar grinned at a young woman, a local half his age, stepping out for a cigarette. He called on his friend to take his picture with her. He wrapped his enormous arm around her. Hoping, you could tell, for the fleeting friendships that unfold in any tourist town.
She smiled briefly for the camera and grimaced as she turned away. Then grimaced again, glancing at the screen. Brazil pushing forward, but nothing happening, Mexico growing in confidence. The look on her face said it all – Brazil’s World Cup party come undone. Neymar, new hairdo and all, looking ordinary.
I looked over at the beach. Eerily near-empty. Courting couples and a few eccentric surfers. You could almost envy them, their obliviousness.
At halftime, two couples from Japan emerged from their luxury lodgings. Each had two young boys. They were from Osaka. “Holiday!” one man shouted to me. They all headed straight for the deserted beach with a small soccer ball and started a game with the boys.
As Brazil’s coach, Luiz Felipe “Big Phil” Scolari, sat and brooded anxiously during a long period of Mexican possession, the Japanese kids played on, ignoring the game.
On the TV screen, the smiling was from the Mexican supporters. Down by the Fan Zone, fireworks went off. Giddy cheers in the distance, as night fell. Mexicans. Around me, a sullen air descended, as chilly as the night air by the ocean.
It was awful, really. Who spends loads of money to come here to make like a 0-0 tie with Mexico is a heavenly thing, all dancing on the beach? Rich Mexicans, maybe, on this evening. A limo went by, occupied by four huge sombreros and driven by a stone-faced local, looking mortified.
There are lineups outside the supermarket in ritzy Leblon, near the beach. Some locals, just wanting to get their shopping done and waiting for the store to reopen after that stunning game, and that crazy, curly-haired Mexican goalie taking Brazil’s World Cup vibe by his long, lithe arms and tearing it asunder.
Tourists, Americans from Kansas, buying vast quantities of beer. “Party?” I asked. “Getting drunk, my friend,” was the reply from the young man in designer flip-flops, shorts and polo shirt. “What we came here for.“
The locals, meanwhile, rich and poor, are sobered. The fantasy is on hiatus. It’s the Mexicans who dance.