After the Greece-Japan World Cup match here Thursday night, groups of Japanese fans wandered outside the stadium for awhile, asking around for the location of public transportation back to a city center that does not exist. Eventually, they found a taxi line, and waited for almost an hour alongside Brazilian fans, chatting and posing together for photos.
One local in a pickup truck stopped and asked if anyone wanted a ride. But no one seemed in a hurry, and soon most of the fans were back by the beach, drinking together and chanting in support of their national squads.
Some of the hundreds of thousands of soccer fans who have journeyed to Brazil say their experiences have been less than perfect. But their complaints, mainly about disorganization, so far have been relatively minor, especially compared to the dire predictions of chaos that were issued prior to kickoff.
As exciting matches have taken center stage, a sense of relief has spread throughout Brazil, and many international visitors are eager to say that any hiccups have been more than made up for by the warm welcome they have received since the tournament began more than a week ago.
“Things are much better than we expected, and the people are so kind that we don't have any problems,” said Kaichi Yamaguchi, 27, visiting from Tokyo, before heading home early after the 0-0 tie to catch a bus to Recife the next morning. “We thought we'd meet criminals or protesters. Exact opposite. Our only problem was that the tickets came a little late.”
“The organization has been up and down,” said Ole Hoken, a 46-year-old Norwegian engineer who said he's attended every World Cup since 1990, as he took in some sun on the beach in Fortaleza on Wednesday. “It's impossible to use public transportation. But everyone here tries to help you. They may not understand you, but they are dying to help you.”
Before the World Cup opened June 12, the hashtag #nãovaitercopa, or “There will be no Cup,” had been prevalent on social media in Brazil -- both among those who supported protests against the high costs for a tournament in a country with poor public services, and those who thought there might be a major logistical breakdown.
Several stadiums were unfinished as the tournament approached, and eight workers died building them. Brazil's creaking infrastructure and transportation systems barely support the local population in normal times. Strikes and protests brought various parts of the country to a halt for weeks before the opening match. And then there was the question of Brazil's crime rate and its record of police brutality.
“I thought this World Cup was going to be a total fiasco. Everyone did.” said Sardo Lima, 53, a retired bank teller working as a taxi driver during the World Cup in Fortaleza. “But thanks to God, everything is going relatively well, apart from some sporadic traffic. But of course, that doesn't change the fact that millions were stolen for the stadiums and many of the programs promised were never delivered.”
It's not surprising that complaints have revolved around transportation costs and service, a national issue that sparked protests of more than a million people last June during the Confederations' Cup soccer tournament. There have also been relatively minor security issues amid signs everything may be just barely held together, relying on lots of goodwill and a little bit of luck.
Over 80 Chile fans without tickets managed to crash into the press room at Rio's Maracanâ stadium, but were quickly detained. In Fortaleza, a fight broke out between Uruguay and Costa Rica fans, said couple Renata Pinto and Wilfried Van de Kimmenade, from Brazil and Holland, respectively.
“There was no security around to break it up,” said Pinto. “We felt we could be at risk, briefly. But we're confident we'll be fine from now on.”
Protests have cropped up in some cities but none as big as the political demonstrations that racked Brazil a year ago. In São Paulo on Thursday, a small group of masked demonstrators broke off from a march estimated at 1,300 people and smashed cars at a dealership. On the opening day of the tournament, police injured several journalists covering a protest.
No demonstrations have interfered directly with any games or celebrations. And many cities have given workers and children holidays, easing pressure on traffic as people stay home to watch.
As the tournament is, for the vast majority of the world, a television broadcast, it has helped that the futebol has been exciting. Many of the early games have been high-scoring, and two underdog Latin American teams, Chile and Costa Rica, upset European juggernauts Spain and Italy.
In the early days of the tournament, which ends July 13, another hashtag had overtaken #nãovaitercopa here: #vaitercopasim, or “There will be a world cup, indeed.”
And after Costa Rica's win on Friday, the slogan: #copadascopas, or “The Cup of all Cups,” was trending, originally promoted by the Brazilian government.
The last major pre-Cup poll showed more than 60% of Brazilians surveyed saying that the tournament would be bad for the country, and no new study has been done yet to see if that has changed. But many of the complaints did not focus on the country's inability to actually host the event, but rather that the government spent much more money than promised on stadiums while schools, hospitals and infrastructure remain in poor condition, and that many of the promises of World Cup projects that would improve daily life here came to nothing.
Some believe that to force that issue now, with the country full of paying visitors, would be tantamount to being a bad host, an idea many Brazilians find abhorrent.
“Now is the time to treat our visitors well. We owe them that,” says Lima. “But after this is all over, I hope, heads will roll.”
Bevins is a special correspondent.