It's taken 64 years for the World Cup to return to Brazil but, in just over a week, it feels like football has regained some of its true essence.

This tournament is already one of the best in recent memory, sparkling on and off the field.

It can't be a coincidence. Brazil is the birthplace of Jogo Bonito (The Beautiful Game) and natural home of football. But it's more than that.

"In Brazil, most people don't have a lot," explained a waiter as he set down my glass of cashew juice (surprisingly good, by the way). "But we have futebol and carneval. And we have alegria [joy]."


You couldn't avoid the joy, excitement and passion last Wednesday, as Fortaleza, a city of 2.5 million people, came to a standstill. And that was before the match.

The Selecao were in town for a World Cup game, for the first time ever. At the 1950 tournament, Fortaleza wasn't a host city, and the home side didn't venture north of Rio or Sao Paulo.

We were told the day before that most shops would close by lunchtime, with the match against Mexico to kick off at 4pm. Even the housekeepers at my pousada (guesthouse) were in a hurry. They came to the door at 10am wanting to know if the room needed cleaning, as they were on a half-day.

From mid-morning, the roads started to jam. Some New Zealand colleagues took a public bus, which was already rocking when they got on, with fans banging on the roof and chanting. On the journey to the stadium, it was easy to see what this World Cup means to Brazil.

In every neighbourhood - even the poorest favelas - there is an endless array of yellow and green streamers hanging across streets and from houses. One of the city walls, which stretched for about 1km, had also been painted in national colours. At every intersection, shirts and flags hung from temporary clotheslines for sale to drivers as they stopped.

Just about everyone is adorned in a yellow shirt, from shop assistants to waiters and those at tourist information centres. Even the homeless and beggars seem to have a national shirt of some description.

Each match is broadcast live by at least eight networks and the World Cup dominates local media.

Every second commercial seems to have a football theme and a key storyline of the most popular soap opera has been a patient being revived out of a coma after listening to recordings of previous World Cup triumphs.

There were 103 television broadcasters at last Wednesday's game, with almost 1000 media personnel accredited for the match. The waiting list for the post-match press conference consisted of more than 200 names - most of whom were left disappointed.

The 0-0 draw was unexpected, although local media recognised the strength of Mexico's performance as much as the faults of their own team.