Essa e a nossa Copa.” This is our Cup. In downtown Sao Paulo, these words are everywhere. On the Paulista’s lips in the form of a tune and against the city’s bones in the form of graffiti. They say it noisily. They want you to believe it. They say it over and over again, till a drummer puts a perky beat to it. Now we’re marching to it, down the final street that joins the Road to Brazil.
We’re hurtling down Avenida Francsico Morato and towards Estadio do Morumbi — the venue for Brazil’s last preparation game before the World Cup begins. Our World Cup begins. Nine thousand miles away from home and perhaps as many years away from my country hosting a FIFA World Cup, the words are on my lips as well.
Around me, almost every jersey is yellow. No surprises there. And almost every yellow jersey sports the name ‘Neymar Jr’ on it. No surprises here either. But a spectator who has styled his hair like Brazil’s latest sensation has ‘Paulo’ emblazoned on his back. And his jersey is blue — Brazil’s away strip and the only other colour visible on this strip. Serbia’s red, it goes without saying, is non-existent.
“I’m from Recife,” says Mr Neymar Hairdo. “So Brazil is pretty much playing away for me.” Brazil is vast, really vast. But at this moment, it seems like all of Sao Paulo, the largest city of the fifth largest nation, has surrounded the stadium. Beyond the metal gates, a Chinese vendor selling disposable raincoats looks astonished. He journeyed half way around the world to witness another Yellow Sea form magically around him.
The touts and I, however, are interested in other colours. It’s the black of their shady market that I wish to procure a ticket from. And they hope to see plenty of green. “Uno bilhete, 180 reais,” one gentleman whispers in my ear. One ticket, R$ 180 (approx. Rs 4740). He says that I can have it at cost price and shows me the ticket stub. I laugh and tell him that I can see that he has scribbled a shabby ‘1’ before the ‘80’. He laughs and says: “Brasil, inestimavel.”
Inestimavel, or priceless, they sure may be. But I’m on a budget and head down the road to a ‘pao e cerveja’ (bread and beer) instead.
Just minutes away from kick-off and expecting to find a miniature Estadio do Morambi at the bar, I step inside knowing that there won’t be a seat available. It’s all but empty. “Brazilians are very superstitious about their football,” says 58-year old Silvinio, my only other companion in Kina da Vila, Portuguese for Cornerhouse. “They will only gather in the stadium or in their friend’s house.”
As the Hino Nacional Brasileiro, the national anthem, begins to play, Silvinio begins rolling a joint. “Brazil’s beauty becomes divine with this,” he says, giggling. Inside the telly, the cameras focus on their number 10, Neymar. He sings along. Then the lens captures a 20-something woman weeping buckets of joy.
“Tears of disbelief,” Silvinio corrects me. “I’m her grandfather’s age and I wasn’t born when Brazil last hosted a World Cup. Now she is there to witness it live.” Born in 1956, Silvinio claims to have followed each of Brazil’s five World Cup wins (although it must be said that he was all of 2 when they won their first in 1958), but tales of 1950 — when Brazil last hosted the event — were only passed down to him by his father.
“About 200,000 spectators claim to have been at the Maracana that night when Brazil lost 2-1 to Uruguay. My father was one of them,” he says, in an effort to sum up the Maracanazo, or the Maracana Tragedy. “Augusto’s side was Brazil’s first team of artists. They were unfortunate to have not won it then. But it will be even more unfortunate if this team, with Brazil’s last footballing poet Neymar, does not win.”
The last poet breezes down the left flank, nutmegs Branislav Ivanovic, collects the ball around Serbia’s one-man wall and gifts it just outside the box to Fred, who promptly shanks it. The crowd sound ecstatic and furious at the same time. This peculiar South American cheer surrounds us — blaring from the TV in front and wafting from the stadium at the back.
A packed bar-acana
Fred, though, saves face by flicking in the match’s only goal early in the second half. “We won’t lose from here on,” Silvinio says knowingly. He isn’t alone. With Brazil up 1-0, the bar is half-full within minutes and is packed by the final whistle. It ends 1-0. Now they’re singing again and waving their flags. Now they’re believing again and shouting their slogans.
“Essa e a nossa Copa,” they chant. Long before it really is, it is.