RIO DE JANEIRO— Every time Brazil’s national team plays in the football World Cup, normal life in the country comes to a halt. In rich neighborhoods or in poor ones, people gather together to watch the action.
Tavares Bastos is a poor community built on a hill overlooking Rio de Janeiro’s famous Flamengo beach. Football is part of life for residents of this once informal settlement, or favela, perched above some of the most expensive real estate in the hemisphere.
Life's daily routine freezes for two heart-stopping hours while the Brazilian team plays a World Cup match. Everyone, including local fan Andre Luiz Rodriguez, is an expert on the team.
“In fact, they are good," he said. "But they are not playing ball ... as well as they need to. They can play much better. The other teams all have the potential to compete in the final.”
Football can also be the ticket out of the grinding poverty of neighborhoods like this, where most people work for minimum wage or in the informal economy. A local son, Paulo Cesar, has made it and now plays for Flamengo, one of the top professional teams.
Some of these neighborhoods, known as favelas, are dens of drug trafficking and violence. But others, with the help of police and neighborhood watch groups, are turning themselves into peaceful, family-oriented communities.
Almost 40 million poor Brazilians in the past decade have moved into the middle class. But Brazilians say consumerism and corruption have driven up prices and survival is still a struggle.
“I know that Brazil is [a] country of corruption with a population of fools that allow it to happen," said fan Rodriguez. "But I think Brazil has much more than this. This is a minority. It is not just about corruption.”
A missed goal and the crowd groans. The team needs to work on its offense, says Paulo Vitor Araujo Guimaraes.
“The attack [offense] of the team is ok but lacks creativity and follow-through," he said. "But the spirit is good. The only thing lacking is the scoring.”
As for who is going to win the World Cup, Gabriella Souza and Jozi Santos know for sure.
“Brazil,” said Souza.
“Brazil," Santos said. "Today, it is going to win 3-0… Yeah, 3-0…”
The game ends and Brazil has qualified for the second round, winning 4-1 over Cameroon. Not its best performance. But the fans are happy. The party begins.