'In the early stages of the World Cup it was okay to wear an Argentina jersey in the street...'

Our man in Brazil is braced for a not-so-smooth landing.

Mikey Stafford reports for from Rio De Janeiro

FOR SUCH A busy airport Rio’s Galeao seems to have a particularly short runway.

Watching from the viewing platform at Christ the Redeemer it appears planes landing at the island terminal come to a near-immediate stop upon making contact with terra firma.

As we skimmed in over the water last night on our flight from Recife I was bracing myself not for impact, but for whiplash. As soon as we made contact, we heard the almighty roar as the engines were thrust into reverse and the plane did indeed slow to a crawl in a swift, if smooth, manner.

The pilot nailed it. Textbook landing and all that. Airline pilots train diligently just so these things — landing on postage stamp island runways — become everyday acts.

Footballers train a lot too but it seems winning a World Cup is no everyday act. It’s just seven little steps to heaven but unlike Galeao’s shrinking runway the steps seem to get bigger and bigger, and the pressure is beginning to show.

World Cup Instagram Galeao airport, home of happiness. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Brazil have brought in a sports psychiatrist, Regina Brandao, who may herself soon need to see a shrink, such is the glare of the media spotlight on her activities at the Selecao’s training camp in Teresepolis.

The sight of Julio Cesar, Neymar and even captain Thiago Silva blubbering before, during and after  Brazil’s second round penalty shootout win over Chile has not impressed the likes of Carlos Alberto, Silva’s predecessor when Brazil won the tournament in 1970.

Brazil Soccer WCup Brazil Chile Source: AP/Press Association Images

It’s not just the players though. The stress of watching Brazil has become so intense that some team officials have been getting rid of their tickets. The fact that those tickets ended up in the hands of an 11-strong gang of touts may, ironically, end up causing those officials more stress than sitting through Brazil’s quarter-final with Colombia in Fortaleza tomorrow.

The busting of the ticketing scam was a good day for the Brazilian police, but there are signs the thin blue line is also in danger of cracking under pressure.

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How else do you explain the counter-productive deployment of noise and smoke bombs to break up a party that was going on too loud and too long into the São Paulo night. Next the fire brigade are going to start tackling fires with petrol.

Brazil Soccer WCup Protests Source: AP/Press Association Images

The Military Police have been accused of heavy-handedness on a number of occasions during the tournament and while they maintain that the use of “moral effect” grenades was a response to revellers throwing stones and bottles, it is just as likely that the chief cause of the flare-up was the supporters’ provocative clothing.

In the early stages of the tournament it was okay to wear an Argentina jersey in the street, to mass or even to a World Cup match, but the progress of Brazil’s southerly neighbours at this World Cup is in direct, opposite proportion to the social acceptability of donning the blue and white stripes.

Brazil Soccer WCup Argentina Source: AP/Press Association Images

So, for those fans to be dressed so provocatively, celebrating Argentina’s workmanlike victory over Switzerland at 2am on a school night was always likely to elicit a response — in this case grenades of the “moral effect” variety.


There are only seven games remaining at this World Cup — eight if you count the sister-shifting session that is the third-fourth play-off — and everyone is beginning to feel the strain.

After nearly four weeks in Brazil’s northeast I thought I would return to Rio de Janeiro with enough Portuguese to at least order a pizza and pay for it, but the accent down south changes so dramatically that it is like the locals are speaking yet another language I don’t understand.

My initial attempts at asking for “a quanta” were so poor it sounded like, instead of requesting the bill, I was looking for a Jerry Springer Show guest called “Laquanda”. But after weeks of practice it was refined, only for the waitress in the pizzeria in Botafogo last night to stare at me blankly.

It was a tremendous blow to my self-confidence.

That’s the thing about the knockout stages, there’s no safety net and what you did in the earlier rounds count for nothing.

There is bound to be stress but what counts is how you deal with it — you can either land the plane safely, talk to someone about your feelings, or start hurling grenades. Your choice.

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Mikey Stafford

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