by André Oliveira*
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - The 2014 World Cup came to its epic end. On July 13th, its final – between Argentina and Germany, in the Maracanã stadium – was watched by more than 1 billion people across 219 countries. The football mythic and iconic temple hosted a World Cup final for the second time. In 1950, the Uruguayans defeated Brazilian squad on their home soil. Even after 64 years, the so-called 'Maracanazo' still remains as one of the biggest tragedies in Brazil's history – a vibrant, democratic nation which faces neither military threats, nor terrorism, nor ethnic or religious tensions, but has a closer connection with football like no other country in the globe.
The stadium capacity has been reduced, from 200 thousand spectators to 78 thousand fans. Despite being renovated, it has now lost its soul and greatness – according to many football enthusiasts. The 2014 World Cup final registered an attendance of 74,738 supporters; although, the venue was not completely full, due to many spaces provided to media personnel. There were 99 thousand less people than 64 years ago, when 173,850 people witnessed Uruguay’s triumph and the Brazilian fall.
The Germany vs Argentina game set some records. The 1-0 result let the Germans become the first European team to win a World Cup in the Americas. Miroslav Klose has dethroned Ronaldo as the highest goalscorer in all tournament editions. On social media, it is the most commented single sporting event in Facebook’s history. The network registered 280 million interactions (posts, comments, and likes) from over 88 million people. Twitter reported 32.1 million tweets during the final match, less than the 35.6 million messages sent during the Brazil vs. Germany game on 8th July. According to Facebook's data, there had never been an event – sporting or otherwise – which had reached the amount of a billion interactions, and, by the end of the tournament, the remaining 350 million people pushed the overall figure to 3 billion.
Before the match, a closing ceremony was held and filled with performances by Shakira, Wyclef Jean and Carlos Santana; the brazilian singers Ivete Sangalo, Carlinhos Brown and Alexandre Pires were also on the show, as well as the samba group Academicos do Grande Rio. Among the spectators, foreign leaders – including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the latter of whom’s country will host the 2018 World Cup – could be seen in the stalls. Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's first elected female president, who is running for re-election this year – despite being booed by thousands of fans during the opening ceremony, in São Paulo – stood on the tribunes as well and quickly delivered the troophy to German’s capitan Philip Lahn. Some insults could be heard, again, after her image appeared on the 4 screens of the arena. Brazil’s political fissures were exposed worldwide, reflecting spreading disenchantment with her government among some Brazilians who are prosperous enough to afford tickets to World Cup matches. Sunday's final was also attended by the leaders of Hungary and South Africa. Meanwhile, the Argentine head of state, Cristina Kirchner, did not attend the global event – even though Lionel Messi set foot on the pitch – as she had pharyngo-laryngitis which has been stopping her from organizing the government agenda.
According to government sources, nearly 26 thousand members of the police and armed forces patrolled the streets of Rio de Janeiro and 25 ships monitored its coast. This was the biggest security effort for a special event in the history of both Brazil and of the city of Rio itself. Hooliganism, pitch raids, fights, storms and terrorism have been the leading causes for concern among security officials. Protests were also expected. In 2013, during the Confederations Cup, thousands of Brazilian citizens took to the streets to complain about the high spending required for the tournament. On Saturday, one day before the final match, 19 people – linked with acts of vandalism during previous protests – were detained. Human rights advocates have condemned the arrests. "The only goal is to neutralize, suppress and intimidate those men and women who have made their presence on the street a form of expression in their fight for social justice," the Justiça Global group said in a statement.
On Sunday, just a few hours ahead the game, 400 people protested in Saens Peña Square (2 km away from Maracanã venue) against the use of huge public loans to build lavish stadiums. Police forces used tear gas/pepper spray and lanched stun grenades/rubber bullets to disperse and dissuade demonstrators from marching towards the venue; six people were arrested and six got hurt, but no one was seriously injured. As the World Cup came to a close with dumb street protests, the authorities became more relieved, partly because the wider population put their complaints aside and decided to enjoy the atmosphere and the games – which dictated the mood.
Around 100,000 Argentine football supporters headed to Rio in the days leading up to the final, even though many of them had not got tickets for the match – and, yes, these fans were up to watch the game on the sands of the FIFA Fan Fest, at Copabacana beach. There were tickets available on the black market, for the incredible amount of USD 10,250 (when its normal prices ranged from USD 150 to USD 900), in spite of it being against the law. In 24 hours, around 12,000 fans entered Brazil through the border city of Uruguaiana (RS), and some were there after travelling more than 2,500 kilometers from Buenos Aires to the Maracanã stadium, in a three-day drive – to cheer for their team – due to high prices of plane tickets. They joined compatriots who had already been in the neighbouring country since the start of the tournament. Between Friday and Sunday, 14 additional Aerolíneas Argentinas flights, as well as the 8 regular ones, took supporters on the Buenos Aires-Rio de Janeiro route, bringing the total seats available to 3,700. Cars, minibuses and motorhomes flooded the streets of Rio. Many of them parked at the so-called Sambódromo, where the city hosts its Carnival parade – although, after, the brazilian rhythm gave its space to romantic tango songs as opposed to anything samba-related. The city officials also offered the "Terreirão do Samba", an open air concert venue located in downtown. Some fanatic and adventurous supporters slept inside their cars and even on the streets, beaches, benches and bus stations in Rio, due to both lack and high prices of hotel rooms – the Brazilian currency is, afterall, much stronger when compared to its Latin-American neighbour and so it accommodation does appear more expensive.
Copacabana definitely looked like an Argentine beach, with thousands of fans gathering, singing and wearing their blue-and-white jerseys. In general, they peacefully supported "La Albiceleste". This was the first tournament South American fans have travelled to in such numbers on their own continent. Colombians, Costa Ricans, Uruguayans, Mexicans and – of course – Argentinians were visible in every World Cup host-city, mainly in Rio.
On Saturday, some troublemakers disrupted the traffic on Atlântica Avenue. However, after claims of the police, the guards used tear gas to halt the disorder. Two Argentinians were detained, but nothing serious happened. On Sunday, after the game, small turmoils took place around the Maracanã stadium and inside the FIFA Fan Fest, at Copacabana Beach, mainly between Brazilian and Argentine supporters who confronted each other. The rivalry brought tension to the streets of Rio. Fans were arrested and fights were suddenly stopped by the huge amount of guards. On Atlântica Avenue, bottles and cans were thrown. Security forces worked together and used tear gas. Inside the Maracanã stadium, 19 people were detained, including a Russian man who ran towards the pitch. During the match, disturbances occurred on stadium stands – but no one was seriously injured and all of these cases were generally unimportant. Before the tournament’s beginning, the Argentine government sent, to their Brazilian counterparts, a list of 2,100 violent supporters – the so-called “barras bravas”; 266 of them were forbidden to enter in Brazil and 53 were arrested and deported once on Brazilian soil.
Brazil and Argentina have been at peace since 1828 – when the Cisplatina War ended; today, both countries maintain close ties and a vigorous bilateral trade agreement (USD 30 billion, in 2013). The South American neighbours, on the other hand, have developed one of the most extreme international rivalries in sports, mainly confined to football and even depicted in TV advertisements. The country's supporters have had a long-running dispute about who was the greatest footballer ever — Brazil's Edson Arantes do Nascimento, simply known as “Pelé” (“The King”), or Diego Armando Maradona (“El Diez”, from Argentina). The chant "Maradona is greater than Pelé" has become a hit and is sung by thousands of Argentine fans, both in Brazilian venues and on the streets. Fears of fights also justified the mounting of 26 thousand members of the police and armed forces in Rio de Janeiro, on the weekend when the final took place.
"If Argentina beat Brazil in the final, I'll kill myself" – Rio mayor Eduardo Paes joked last year. It would not be possible anymore. Brazil's 7-1 devastating loss, in the semi-final, ended the dream. The German squad were merciless in what was a brutal game. However, "La Albiceleste" played in Rio, on June 13th – as well as Germany – and, if Argentina would have won the 2014 World Cup, at the Maracanã stadium, it would have been the worst possible end to the tournament and a frightening nightmare, according to many Brazilians. That’s why they cheered for the Europeans as they did for Argentina’s previous opponents, despite the fact that the Germans dismantled, crushed and floored the Brazilian team in the semi-final. Yes, it made some sense; and the host-country was not alone on this tough choice. Many Latin Americans also supported Germany. Argentines have a regional reputation for arrogance and greatness; a European pretension caused by a legacy of mass Italian immigration in the early 20th century – when Argentina's economy was one of the world's biggest. Today, the country faces economic setbacks. Although, its football team is currently on the top.
The charism and the German’s conectivity with Brazilian people also influenced the atmosphere. On social media, German players posted texts, photos and videos, depicting them on beaches, linked with Brazilian culture. Yes, they even wore jerseys and sung anthens of local teams. Yes, they even danced with indians and played football with kids. After the semi-final match against Brazil, when Germany scored 7 goals and led the host-nation to the heaviest defeat ever, the Europeans wrote several respectful messages – many of them in Portuguese – about the greatness of Brazil’s football history. According to the German Football Association, there was no marketing involved at all, but pure spontaneity. It seemed they were truly enjoying themselves and having fun in a country where all football players dream to play – and want to succeed.
Inside the Maracanã, the stadium stands were mainly divided between South Americans and Europeans. During the match, the Brazilians rarely took the initiative to support the German squad. The locals had not so much to cheer for but plenty to root against. With the exception of the odd shout, the locals adopted their counter-attack tactics: for every Argentine cheer – and Argentinians were there in a great number –,the locals had a comeback, whether in the form of boos, shouting teasing or smothing the white-blue supporters.
Brazilian football fans were generally pleased with the result of the game, although the mere presence of archrivals underpinned how disastrously this tournament unfolded for Brazil on the field. When Germany scored its goal to win its fourth World Cup title, shouts, jeers and fireworks were set off across Rio, even if it was out of relief as much as celebration. Locals hugged and staggered onto the streets, partying at their neighbours disgrace. Argentinians, despite being sad, were proud. But, yes, they lived their own ‘Maracanazo’.
Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro (Source: Embratur)
Arpoador, Rio de Janeiro (Source: Embratur)
The Maracanã Stadium (Source: Embratur)
The author, ANDRÉ PINTO DE SOUZA OLIVEIRA, 28, Brazil, graduate of the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) is lawyer, instructor and specialist in Environmental and Constitutional Law through the University of Lisbon (Portugal)
*with the contribution of Ben West