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More than 2,500 members of the Brazilian armed forces will take part in the security operation for the World Cup.

Brazil grapples with joy, frustration

Associated Press
Boys watch as another boy practices his soccer bicycle kicks in a Rio de Janeiro slum Monday, a few days before the start of the World Cup on Thursday.

– It’s a tale of the two World Cups – one on a field and one playing out on this country’s streets.

As Brazilians raise the curtain this week on the world’s most popular sporting event, the country’s fervent love of soccer is butting up against public anger over charges of wasteful spending, corruption, traffic jams, strikes and a litany of other complaints.

After enduring a year of anti-government protests that tied up roads and strikes that paralyzed public transport, schools and other services, many exhausted Brazilians finally are preparing to cheer on their beloved team, though in what may be the flattest pre-Cup climate they’ve yet seen.

On a dark, rain-soaked street in Rio’s Copacabana neighborhood, Francisco Nascimento climbed a rickety ladder to hang plastic streamers in the colors of Brazil’s national flag. With only a few days to go before the Cup’s opening match, Nascimento was running out of time to repeat the ritual he’s completed for every World Cup since 1982.

“I started putting the decorations up really late this year, I can’t say why,” Nascimento said. “Still, I feel a responsibility to show the world our pride, even if it’s just these little streamers.

“Brazil’s struggles, our frustration with politicians, have dampened excitement, and that anger won’t go away. But I don’t know anybody who isn’t praying for our team to show its grit, to show our swagger, and win this Cup.”

On the Cup’s eve and with great hopes that Brazil’s team will win its sixth world title, surely attention will focus on the soccer and not on the street?

“There is certainly a mood of ‘we’ve already paid for the party so we might as well enjoy it,’ ” said Juca Kfouri, one of Brazil’s best-known sports commentators. “But there is also the feeling that a lot of people are ashamed. They’re ashamed to wear the Brazil jersey or put a Brazilian flag in their window because of the protests, because they don’t want to be associated with the exorbitant spending on the Cup.”

Brazilians question whether the expense of hosting the Cup will prove to have been worth it, considering their constant pain of having one of the world’s heaviest tax burdens yet still enduring dilapidated hospitals, roads, security and other poor public services. Many demand that Brazil build schools as spectacular as the new stadiums.

Recent polling shows half the population disapproves of Brazil hosting the event at all, a position once unthinkable for the nation that embodies soccer like no other. Three-fourths polled are convinced corruption has tinged World Cup works that have cost the country $11.5 billion.

The struggles with the Cup have become emblematic of Brazil’s larger ills, of citizens’ feelings that they’re forever hamstrung by politicians on the take and their anger at dealing daily with a broken, frustrating system.

President Dilma Rousseff has repeatedly invoked the warm nature of the Brazilian people as being the country’s saving grace.

“We’re prepared to offer the world a marvelous spectacle, made richer with the happiness, respect and kindness that is characteristic of the Brazilian people,” Rousseff said last week when presenting the World Cup Trophy for public viewing in Brasilia.

But Kfouri and other observers say leaders are overestimating their constituents’ good will.

“Authorities are confident that Brazil’s ‘Carnival spirit’ will overcome all the problems,” Kfouri said. “But I think the mood of the Cup will greatly depend upon what Brazil’s national team does on the field.

“If Brazil is knocked out in the Round of 16 and we’ve got two weeks of a World Cup in Brazil and no Brazilian national team playing, well, then, even if just for diversion, people will take to the streets to make a mess, to protest against the fact that we can’t even win in soccer.”

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