Brazil: Fever pitch in Rio

By Mauricio Olmedo-Perez

There is only one place for fired up Kiwi-Chilean Mauricio Olmedo-Perez to be.

A Brazilian football fan watches a game anxiously. Photo / Creative Commons image by Flickr user Ben Tavener
A Brazilian football fan watches a game anxiously. Photo / Creative Commons image by Flickr user Ben Tavener

I wake to the shouted chant of "Brazil Brazil Brazil" - with blaring car horns as accompaniment. I can think of no finer wake up for my first day in Rio, for the Football World Cup.

I'm staying with Kiwi Doug Hutchings and his Brazilian wife, Beatrice, who live here with their daughter in one of the city's wealthiest suburbs, Ipanema. We're going to watch hosts Brazil face Chile in the World Cup's first round-of-16 match.

The family gets kitted out in their yellow colours; a Kiwi-Chilean, I'm the odd one out in my red Chile shirt, wondering if it's a good idea to do so in a country blissfully obsessed with its team.

The evidence is abundant: flags and bunting are draped from windows everywhere as we make our way to a pub to watch the great latino showdown.

We reach the spot a block from one of the world's most famous beaches. It's packed, but we get the final table, which soon has a bucket of beer on it accompanied by regulation meat skewers and croquettes.

The atmosphere is tense and jubilant. I'm happy to see another table of red shirts in the sea of yellow. The brave souls occasionally get the courage to yell "Chi Chi Chi ... Le Le Le ... Vamos Chile" but this is quickly drowned out by Portuguese song.

The next two-and-a-half hours are a psychologist's dream. Elation, despair, anger, joy and everything between. It's impossible not to be swept up in the moment with fans at their peak.

An Argentine fan gets dressed up to support his team. Photo / Mauricio Olmedo-Perez

Brazil score first, through David Luiz in the 18th minute. Alexis Sanchez brings joy to Chile in the 32nd minute. Inevitably, in a World Cup of such drama, it goes to penalties.

The penalty shoot-out is a test of endurance for our hearts. Many can't watch. I'm up, down, pacing around the bar like a madman. Local media report that more than 100 Brazilians are admitted to hospital during the game because of stress-related breakdowns. So, at the end, when poor Gonzalo Jara knocks Chile's fifth and final penalty against the post, it is almost relief that it is over. It's hard not to share the pure ecstasy of these celebrating Brazilians.

It is probably good for me that Brazil do win because I may not make it home safely in my red shirt. As things stand, it is tough enough having to endure the locals' mocking chants of "Chi Chi Chi ... Ciao Ciao Ciao".

This is only half the day. We have tickets to the Uruguay-Colombia match at Maracana, one of the world's iconic stadiums.

To get things done in Brazil, it's all about how much you're willing to pay or who you know. Fortunately for me it is the latter. Beatrice works for one of the World Cup's major sponsors and, after pulling many strings, our $300 tickets are upgraded to a VIP corporate box. The asking price for these seats is normally more than $20,000 a head.

The first perk: parking. We are swept past hordes of fans, waved through by the hundreds of rifle-toting police and soldiers to park a stone's throw from the stadium; any closer we would be on the pitch.

Five minutes later we are in our box of extravagance. Champagne? Yes please. Filet mignon? Well, why not. Also in the box with us is an unexpected football fan, Anchorman star Will Ferrell, who is surprisingly chatty; he talks about football in the US and their chances against Belgium - and he kindly consoles me about Chile.

Actor Will Ferrell (left) with the author. Photo / Mauricio Olmedo-Perez

There is also an American DJ called Diplo. I hear he's famous. The only reason I know his name is because he is wearing one of his own memorabilia shirts, his name splashed across the back.

Then there is the match, with more than 70,000 screaming fans. I've been to many sporting events around the world, but nothing has come close to this sound. We stand in awe as the Latinos whip themselves into a frenzy.

What the cameras don't show you at home are the constant scuffles between the livid supporters.

On the field, there is a more noble contest. We are treated to two glorious Colombian goals - one, the goal of the tournament (at time of writing) - and an experience of a lifetime.

This is only the second round of what is so far the best World Cup in living memory. Who knows what Brazil has in store for us over the final days of the tournament?

CHECKLIST

Getting there: LAN Chile flies from Auckland to Santiago, Chile, with connections throughout South America.

- NZ Herald

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