On a Domingo, Portuguese for Sunday, a Paulista prefers to wake up early and throw a slab of churrasco on a grill. Then, with belly full, he likes to walk his wife, child and dog to igreja. Church. “You have to say ‘I love you’ to Jesus on Domingos,” says Tiago, who insists that I call him James. “But dog must be tied outside.”
This Sunday, however, Tiago didn’t stick to his usual Domingo routine. Having wolfed down his share of pao and sausages, the 44-year old from Sao Paulo’s district of Jabaquara packed his wife, child and dog in the family car and drove 35 kilometres east to the suburb of Itaquera. “I never miss church. But today I miss to come to Arena Corinthians,” he says sheepishly. “But even Jesus knows that not every Domingo is the Domingo before a World Cup in Brasil. He’ll understand.”
By the looks of it, He’ll have plenty of understanding to do, for Tiago is not alone. At roughly 10:30 am (peak Mass time in this part of the world) the roads surrounding the incomplete structure of Arena Corinthians, venue for the opening match of the 20th World Cup, are buzzing. By late afternoon, these streets have more onlookers than Avenida Paulista, SP’s central shopping district.
It’s not exactly a party, but something close to it. While children and pets frolic about in their merry ways, rolling up and down the grass embankments surrounding the estadio, men like Tiago stand in complete silence, paying obeisance to the stadium’s concrete walls. They seem at peace, with themselves and the surroundings. “Just like in church,” says Tiago.
However, a group of boys from Burkina Faso (their identical jumpers bear the West African nation’s name) want more. “Can you get us in?” asks the leader of the bunch, in perfect English.
“We want to see the pitch. The green pitch.” How is this green pitch any different from the green pitches in Burkina Faso, I ask, only to bite my lip a little too late. “Our pitches are brown,” he says. “We don’t have grass on our football fields in Burkina Faso.”
To catch a glimpse of the green of the Corinthians field, I step towards the gate. Unlike most Sunday morning sightseers, the power of the media accreditation dangling from my neck grants continued…