World Cup Diary: Nation’s hope, apprehension continues for another day

July 5th, 2014

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RIO DE JANEIRO —

The scene at the Delirio Carioca Bar, tucked away on a side road behind the Copacabana Beach, was replicated all over Rio de Janeiro. Friends and neighbors gathered round televisions on street corners or in what they call “pe sumo bars” — it literally means dirty foot bar in a nod to being homely and unpretentious — out in the open air as they summoned all the goodwill they could muster in the name of the Selecao. It wasn’t a cross-section of life. It was all life; From babies to grandparents and everyone in between, decked out in yellow and green and drenched with a heady combination of hope and apprehension.

Buses by the side of the road were parked up, bumper to bumper, stalled for the duration of the game as drivers got out to join in this vital communal moment. There was nobody to take anywhere anyway. Everyone stopped. Friday in Rio was an official World Cup day. A national holiday is declared either when Brazil play a home game, or when there is a World Cup match on at the Maracana. So this was a double reason for the city to give itself in completely to this tournament.

Pockets of humanity erupted when Thiago Silva opened the scoring for Brazil. Then again as David Luiz thumped in a free kick. These friends and neighbors embraced. Fireworks crackled in the night sky. They sang the tune that has become an anthem over these recent weeks: “We are Brazilian, with lots of pride and lots of love.”

Colombia worried them, though, especially in those angst-ridden final minutes after James Rodriguez pulled a goal back, Neymar had departed, so ominously, on a stretcher, and Luiz Felipe “Big Phil” Scolari’s substitutions designed to shore up the game just seemed to intensify the pressure.

Brazil hung on, to prolong their emotional ride through this World Cup. The semifinals brings a number of hurdles. The absence of two fundamental players, men who have inspired at both ends of the pitch in Neymar and Thiago Silva, brings an obvious headache for Scolari. The other factor is that their opponent, Germany, are a more well rounded team who seem to be in a more relaxed frame of mind than Brazil.

Earlier, in the heat of the Rio day at the Maracana, they edged the all European tie with France. Joachim Low summed up how he felt his team mastered the situation when he explained that Germany were “always stepping on the opponents toes.” He didn’t mean that in an aggressive way, more of a strategic way.

He was impressed with how his team had responded to the tweaked tactics, with Philipp Lahm pulled out of midfield and into his original fullback role, and an authentic striker, Miroslav Klose, chosen to lead the attack. Low was not minded to give any clues about which way he might approach Brazil in the semifinal, though. “We are able, and this is one of our tactical strengths, that we can play different ways,” he said. “The team has intrinsic qualities. It’s a solid and stable team.”

All those adjectives — able, tactical, solid, stable — contrast with the emotion that has been central to Brazil’s performances so far. The players’ tears had been at once endearing, but also a symbol that the tension of the occasion and what is expected of them can be overwhelming. Brazil have to control their nerves as well as a strong opponent when they come up against Germany.

Low was asked afterwards about how his team might break through the glass ceiling of recent tournaments. Semifinals come with impressive regularity. Trophies have, however, remained elusive. “In last World Cups, we have been among last four permanently. That’s quite a performance. We will try to take the next step. For us the semifinal is first and foremost in our minds,” he said.

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"The Latin American teams have home advantage. You cannot deny that. In 2010 or 2006 we had three of the four semifinalists from Europe. Now South Americans are fighting for their lives. That home advantage is obvious."

On Tuesday night, the Brazilian crowds will come out again, to cluster around their televisions, together, to confront another stern examination of a nation’s crazy hope and apprehension.

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