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Soccer fans react during the World Cup 2014 soccer match between Brazil and Mexico while watching the game in a street in Manaus June 17, 2014.  (Reuters)

Soccer fans react during the World Cup 2014 soccer match between Brazil and Mexico while watching the game in a street in Manaus June 17, 2014. 



A week of thrilling matches in a country that wasn’t ready Add to ...

As the World Cup nears the end of the group stage, Globe writers Cathal Kelly and John Doyle discuss the organization of the tournament, its Brazilian backdrop and, more specifically, who is the best player and which country’s going to win when the final whistle blows on July 13.

Cathal Kelly: When the walls started coming down at the Maracana press centre, I had my come-to-Jesus moment. I thought, ‘Well, the building’s collapsing. That seems a little too perfect. However, I’ve lived well. Adieu.’ … It was a long moment. But it was only a rampaging horde of invading Chileans. They seemed harmless enough as security began corralling them like escaped hogs.

We’re more than a week into this thing, and it’s time to ask ourselves: ‘Remind me. How much was my per diem?’ It’s also time to ask ourselves: ‘How’s this all going?’ The perspective from this corner – perfectly on the pitch, and more than a little dodgy everywhere else. Brazil wasn’t ready, and it shows.

But the on-field product is rescuing their international reputation. It’s almost as if football and Brazil were meant to go together?!

John Doyle: I tend to agree. For instance, the stadium in Sao Paulo wasn’t ready and, as I understand it, in the EU, no country would have allowed it to be used and accommodate the crowd for the opening match. The flimsy wall that so easily collapsed at the media centre encapsulates it all – flimsiness observed here, there and everywhere if you’re covering the tournament.

What is saving the situation is the quality of soccer played so far. Wonderful, thrilling matches with lots of goals. And locally, I suspect people only want to talk about the Brazil team. Also I think the reality is that the most important facility here in the IBC, the International Broadcast Centre. This is a global TV event, and unless something massively awful happens, that is how the world sees it. Speculating what it all reveals about Brazil, the country, is another matter.

CK: I suspect it won’t mean much of anything to the average Brazilian. Most of them threw their hands up months ago. They were only too aware of how much of a gong show this might shape up as, logistically. There’s a little bit of local schadenfreude now that it’s gone a little sideways. Not a whole lot. Just enough to embarrass the elites.

In the streets, they’re focused on the look of the national side, and not in a fond way.

As ever, the truth comes from the mouths of cab drivers. We were with one the other day who wanted to discuss the relative merits of everyone here. In his judgment: Netherlands ‘bom’ ; Germany ‘bom’ , Brazil ‘(unprintable).’

It is remarkable how invested average Brazilians appear to be in that sinking feeling. Gather any random 100 Rio residents together at any time of day, and half of them will be wearing some iteration of the Brazil jersey. In the favelas, the percentage is much higher. Those people may not have much, but they’ve found a little extra for a knock-off kit.

However, they’re preparing themselves for disappointment. They have that very Canadian way of talking down their own chances, while desperately hoping they’re wrong. An inverse invocation of luck.

I don’t think things are anywhere near as bad as they seem to fear. Brazil hasn’t been a powerhouse here, but barring one out-of-contract goalkeeper, they should be on two wins from two.

Do you see an early exit for Brazil in the cards? And if so, do you have your emergency exit strategy planned?

JD: I’m seeing Brazil scratch through to the quarter-finals and go out on penalties. An England way of doing a tournament.

Before this started, the central narrative, in a purely soccer context, was this: Brazil must win the World Cup at home. Now there is realism.

Everybody has seen most teams play twice, and the quality can be assessed. Brazil, the team, needs some tinkering, though it may be too late. I’m starting to think of Brazil as the Portugal of South America – a ceaseless supply of really good players, but lack of steel when it comes to a tournament. The World Cup is seven games. That requires a unity of purpose and leadership from a manager. It isn’t there with Brazil.

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