World Cup 2014: Neymar even gets roars of approval for adjusting his green-and yellow pants
The face of this World Cup has lived up to his billing with four goals in three games for the hosts
Tuesday 24 June 2014
There are several thousand people crowded beside the 16th-century fort and lighthouse. There is a cooling breeze from the Atlantic, men with ice boxes selling beer, and on the big screens, Brazil are playing.
Welcome to Salvador’s Fan Fest, surely the ideal place to find out whether the Brazilian football fan really does live up to that samba-swaying, joy-exuding stereotype. Almost everybody is in yellow for Monday’s game against Cameroon – even a passing poodle – and the overzealous frisk by a heavily armed policeman seems a small price to pay for joining the party.
Yet the atmosphere is initially subdued. Big Phil’s Brazil have not quite got a nation believing just yet. “It’s not been so good so far,” says Rafael, a 23-year-old watching the game with two friends. “I hope we can win today and then in the next rounds we will be better.”
The jury is certainly out on Fred, a player whose wonderfully unglamorous name is not quite as mundane-sounding in Portuguese. “Fredgie” is how to pronounce it, although a few other words are aired as he improvises an ill-advised Andy Gray-style header on his stomach in the six-yard box: “terrible” is Rafael’s verdict. Fortunately Neymar soon gets the crowd going with his opening goal and Rafael’s female companion is swooning. Tapping me on the shoulder with an inflatable, she declares she is “adorando Neymar”.
Fred comes off following a disappointing display against Mexico
There are groans when Cameroon equalise but as Neymar’s second goes in, a man in a leopard-skin vest takes a selfie while a woman in regulation hot pants dances.
Neymar is clearly the man of the moment and horns are blown at his every trick. Even the sight of him adjusting his patriotic green-and-yellow underpants as he leaves the tunnel for the start of the second half earns a roar of approval.
Night has fallen and the atmosphere is warming up. The celebrations as Fred makes it 3-1 are more intense than before – out of relief, perhaps – even if the moment is spoiled somewhat by a shower of beer courtesy of a woman in a yellow curly wig behind.
Fred is not the only one dividing opinion and there are jeers as Hulk goes off – Antonio to my right notes it is “not his day”, even if his ample backside is a hit with the Brazilian ladies.
Not everybody is entirely focused on the football. The crowd forms a space behind as a man with blond dreadlocks pulls a couple of capoeira dance moves. It is Neymar’s moves on the pitch, though, that everybody wants to see. “He is fantastic,” says Fernando, a doctor in his 60s. He is unconvinced by Brazil’s midfield, though, and sees substitute Fernandinho’s introduction as pivotal. “As the tournament goes on the team will get better, more compact and more confident,” he says.
Leaving the Fan Fest after the game, Sergio, a white-haired man with his wife and son, admits his surprise at the experience. “We’re not very organised in Brazil but it has been great here.”
There were no samba drums but a sense, with Brazil qualified as group winners, that the party is warming up. At least until I climb into a taxi and the driver starts discussing Chile. “I’d rather play Holland. Chile know our game inside out,” he says. Brazilians are more sceptical than the stereotype would suggest.
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