Frantic pulse in stands and streets of Rio

16:00, Jul 06 2014
PARADE OF COLOUR: Brazil fans celebrate in Rio following their victory over Colombia.

Our travelling Kiwi journo went to the Germany-France match before wandering through the streets of Rio during Brazil's clash. 

There are two hearts to Brazil. One lies in the streets, where everyone can touch it, and breathe it in.

It's where the people will always be - where they make their lives. Where they work, drink, laugh and die.

The other lies somewhere beneath Rio de Janeiro's Maracana; a great beating heart from which an entire culture sets its social, and spiritual, rhythm.

A sporting cathedral where football doesn't just feel like football - more like a holy experience.

Yesterday, I visited both. The high stands of Estadio do Maracana - the world's greatest football stadium - and the streets of Rio, or more specifically, a tiny square on Rua Benjamin Constante in Lapa, as Brazil played Colombia in a World Cup quarterfinal.


The first experience was as enjoyable as it was deflating. Germany versus France was rightfully billed as the most exciting, on paper, of the tournament's quarterfinals.

Two European giants who had both played the Copa with flair and excitement so far, meeting in football's best stage.

Thomas Muller vs Karim Benzema? Manuel Neuer vs Hugo Lloris? Paul Pogba or Bastian Schweinsteiger? Oh baby, you rocked me.

Add to that the ghosts of '82, and that tackle, in Seville, when Toni Schumacher broke Patrick Battiston's jaw. The history was there, but so was the fluency of the present.

Yesterday, unfortunately, couldn't live up to the expectations, with Germany and France delivering a truly tepid endorsement of the ‘Joga Bonito.'

The Germans did as much as was necessary - surprise, surprise - with defender Mat Hummels heading past keeper Lloris to score his 12th-minute opener. It would be all that would be needed.

It's the oldest cliché in football, but it was the truest in Rio yesterday morning: Germany was Germany. They ground out a victory, with true un-entertaining efficiency.

Rock-solid at the back of the park, Kroos and Schweinsteiger chased every ball in the middle of the park down like labradors. They'd gather up the ball, pass it on and their star strikers, Muller, Miroslav Klose, and - later - Andres Schurrle, would bumble chances on goal.

Creative in the first stanza, star French midfielder Paul Pogba looked devoid of energy in the second, while livewire Antoine Griezmann - France's footballing version of the Warriors' Shaun Johnson - spluttered as team-mates lacked the urgency to follow him into battle.

It was a strange affair to watch unfold, especially given the names in action.

That would have held true at any football ground, but at the Maracana, a place where Pele, Garrincha and Zico had shone, the 90 minutes between Germany and France seemed like an insult.

In the stands, the locals chanted ‘Brasil! Brasil!'

It was as if the entire stadium was simply checking its watch, waiting for the time to tick to 5pm for the start of the Brazil vs Colombia game in Fortaleza.

The time would tick by, and I would find myself in the streets of Lapa, which were filled with people wearing yellow Brazilian jerseys, smiling nervously and carrying cups of Brahma.

We think a nation stops for an All Black test match? Mate. Visit Brazil when A Selecao is playing in a World Cup, and report back to me then.

Yesterday, the broad steps of Rua Benjamin Constante, a steep favela street, were packed with people as the game was screened on a big truck at the bottom. Free food was available down the roadsides, and beer was cheap at the bottom. It was party time. Well, hopefully.

Every poor pass never felt such a personal blow. Every good pass was never so spectacular. And goals? Oh, man. The goals.

Imagine a city with its arms outstretched in unrestrained jubilation. Watch fireworks fly past your shoulder like cruise missiles, before exploding above you, shaking the neighbourhood.

Fireworks, by the way, that explode every ten minutes all night, every night of a Brazilian victory.

Such is Brazil. Unpredictably wild. A loss could have sent the streets in another direction.

Such is Brazil. Such is the street. Such is the stadium, too.

One beating heart, and another.

Sunday Star Times