Brazil’s special claim on the game has always been that it speaks the language of football so eloquently that it can bridge cultures and create bonds between people who have nothing in common.

You may not speak a word of Portuguese but when Brazil play you suddenly become part of the country’s extended football family. This explains why it has long been the world’s second favourite national team.

So when FIFA decided to bring the 2014 World Cup to Brazil it became a coronation.

There was no other bidder and with Brazil claiming football as one of its natural treasures along with the Amazon, the expectations were this would be a World Cup like no other.

However, the worrying thing is Brazil is showing few signs of wanting to fulfil those expectations. True, my experience so far is based on Sao Paulo which has traditionally had a reputation for not warming to the national team.

Even then, for the city to be so laid back, and without any discernible buzz for the World Cup, in the week leading up to the opening match, has been quite an extraordinary experience.

I could have been in any city in the world let alone one where the national team was to play the opening match of a competition it considers its private property, having won it a record five times.

What is even more remarkable is that unlike other countries hosting major sporting competitions the natives have been very reluctant to engage with visitors about it.

The contrast with my experience in Sochi three months ago could not be more striking. For all the talk of how much President Vladimir Putin spent on the Winter Olympics, the Russians I met could not stop talking about it or describing the wonders of their region.

In Sao Paulo I have had to drag out views on the World Cup and the few willing to talk have been uniformly critical that a World Cup meant to cost no public money has seen billions spent on stadiums and infrastructure when so much needs to be done to improve education, health care and eradicate poverty.

Many Brazilians blame FIFA — headed by Sepp Blatter — for the demands the governing body have made on their country and this echoes what I heard four years ago in South Africa. There, as a commentator told me, hosting the World Cup felt like being invaded by a country called FIFA.

However, where Brazil is different is that the Word Cup is, quite unintentionally, proving a catalyst for wider social change. Citizens groups have sprung up which are questioning where Brazil is headed.

That debate will go on long after the World Cup is over.

For those of us here for the football the hope must be that with Brazil, having started with a victory, albeit helped by some very controversial refereeing decisions, ordinary Brazilians will temporarily put aside their misgivings about the cost, emerge from their shells and show us why a World Cup in Brazil is so extraordinary.


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