Uruguay v England: Support England? Brazil backs enemy

Even though they are still haunted by that 1950 Uruguay defeat, the hosts actually have a soft spot for their vizinhos – neighbours  – and tell Ian Herbert in Porto Alegre they want them to win

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It began as a mission to establish whether the Brazilian nation wants England to grind Uruguay into the Sao Paulo dust tonight and help vanquish the ghost of 1950. It ended with the distinct impression that one corner of Brazil would actually rather like to belong to Uruguay.

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Surely some anti-Uruguayan sentiment would not be difficult to find? To compound the calamity of the Maracana defeat that saw Brazil miss out on the trophy in the  last World Cup they hosted, Uruguay has been rubbing their noses in it. Puma launched a video, currently showing in Uruguay, which depicts a ghost wearing the colours of La Celeste and the No 50 on his back, cavorting around Copacabana beach, on top of the Sugarloaf Mountain cable car and the rebuilt Maracana. “El fantasma del 50 ya esta en Brasil” (“The ghost of 50 is still in Brazil”) is the pay-off.

But when you start talking about England v Uruguay here in Rio Grande do Sul, the region at the bottom of Brazil which borders Uruguay, the word vizinhos (neighbours) keeps cropping up. And then comes the kind of talk about the country and its capital, Montevideo, which dismisses the Machiavellian notions which Luiz Suarez, with his deliberate, match-saving handball in the 2010 quarter-final against Ghana have given birth to.

“Yes, they are famous for the way that when they are anxious they will do dirty tricks to unsettle the other team,” says Diego, a waiter here in Porto Alegre. “But not more than the other teams. We don’t hate them because of 1950...”

This attempt to prove a hypothesis about a new support base for Roy Hodgson’s side is not starting well and it goes backwards as others proceed to express affection for their tiny neighbours, perhaps a 10th Brazil’s size, and the duty-free zone on the border. “Our culture is the same as theirs ,” adds Diego. “Montevideo is a fine city. We are vizinhos. We are closer to Uruguayans than other Brazilians.”

The last viewpoint is significant and widely held. The people of Rio Grande do Sol, where German and Italian settlers in the 19th century have created a distinctly European ambiance which is retained to this day, pride themselves on a work ethic which they feel separates them from much of the rest of the vast nation – especially what they widely consider to be Brazil’s feckless, lazy north. The legendary carnival is less pronounced here. They work 10-hour days. They feel like a nation inside a nation.


“We go to live in Uruguay to escape Brazil,” says Maria, a doctor. “It’s a good place to work and find some order.”  Brazil, by contrast, is still judged to lack the political and economic leadership to get things done. Such was Rio Grande’s southern outlook that they even fought a war of independence from Brazil – the Farroupilha or Ragamuffin War – which while ending in defeat in 1845 is still celebrated to this day.

Uruguay also prompts talk of Diego Forlan, who travelled  over the border to play at local club side Internacional for two years from 2010. “He was great here. Another reason to love Uruguay,” says Michel, one of many to bring up his name.

This journey reaches a place which ought to tell us most about the relationship between Brazilians and England’s next opponents. It is a Uruguayan restaurant, Pizza La Mia, where they serve their pizzas the Uruguayan way, by the metre, or por metro, a bit little like buying a carpet. Thankfully, one metre is not the minimum purchase because the chocolate spread pizza – a divine Uruguayan speciality – needs to be consumed in moderation.

“What does your grandfather think about you wearing an apron like that,” seems a reasonable question for Michel, who works here, with the words “pizza a moda uruguaia” sewn into his work apparel. “Yes there is amaragura [bitterness] about 1950,” he replies. “My grandfather tells the stories. Brazil was supposed to win. There was complacency. It was a national tragedy. But it is in the past now. It is only being written in the papers again now…”

This Uruguayan love has its limits. A well-rehearsed joke here tells of two locals indulging in the classic type of Brazilian conversation, criticising their country’s state of paralysis, until a Uruguayan arrives and joins in. The Brazilians then staunchly defend the honour of their nation. That’s the Brazil mindset for you.

But England should not expect the locals to be screaming them on tonight. “We would be happy for Uruguay to go on to the quarter-finals,” says Michel, displaying the 1950 complacency all over again. “Yes, that will be fine. We are better than them now. They can’t win it though. We don’t feel they are a threat…”

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