We turned the corner and were greeted by an arch across the road. Through it we could see the crowd, already enormous. A torrent of yellow, blue and green. This is where Brazilians come to watch their football.
Welcome to Rua Alzira Brandão.
On any other day surely any old street, but not today. Brazil are hosting the World Cup – in case you didn’t know. Said to be one of the most traditional places to watch football – it is but a small, simple street in the Tijuca district of Rio. A large screen and stage at one end – thousands of people squeeze into any space available down the street. The crowd thronged and buzzed with excitement. Forty minutes to go.
A man of perhaps sixty standing next to me flicks a football onto his head, where he balances it expertly – and bashes a tambourine with a child like enthusiasm. A woman moves in front of me with a baby nestled in a peaceful slumber on her shoulder.
The announcer on stage leads the crowd in a stirring rendition of some Brazilian song everybody seems to know. Women shake their backside seductively – men look at these backsides and nod their heads approvingly. And still the baby sleeps.
A line of fierce looking military police stand guard nearby – leaning imposingly on their three foot batons. Two pistols holsted – one it seems a little casually, as if only just used.
The players emerge from the tunnel . The crowd roars with delight. The pump action horns reach a deafening crescendo. The Mexican national anthem is quickly drowned out. The crowd quietens in preparation – and then begin singing their anthem as one. Long and hard and passionate – Neymar is in tears as it reaches its end. A thunderous roar is unleashed – we’re under way.
Brazil struggle in the first half, the agitation in the crowd grows. Saint Neymar is sent tumbling once more. The crowd reacts with fury – eyes blaze, nostrils flare menacingly.
“Caipirinha, caipirinha” through the thick wall of people a man emerges, a tray with ten caipirinhas balanced precariously above him – a Brazil goal would surely spell the end of his endeavour.
Into the second half half. The score remains 0-0. Murmurs of discontent begin to grow. Brazil are not playing well – and the crowd knows it. The booing is ferocious when the completely ineffective Fred is replaced.
The clock ticks down. Surely not – surely they can score. A corner is flung in in the last five minutes. Thiago Silva, the captain, powers a header forward – he meets it perfectly – the ball sails towards the goal. The crowd gasps. This is it – but no – straight at the goalkeeper. An awful miss. The clock ticks down further – and finally stops. People look around at each other – some look angry, some look shocked – this wasn’t supposed to happen.
Then something strange happened. The band emerges, as do the scantily clad dancers. The music resumes– and the party goes on. And still the baby sleeps.