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World Cup Fever: Despite Protests, Partying Mood Takes Over Brazil


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's check in, now, on one of the biggest sporting events in the world, the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament. After Monday's USA-Ghana match, the U.S. has reason to celebrate because 21-year-old defender John Brooks Jr. scored the goal that put the Americans up 2-to-1 in their victory over Ghana. Here he is after the game.


JOHN BROOKS: I had a dream - told some teammates that I dreamed that I score in the 80th minute, and we win the game. And now it was the 86th minute, and we won.

MARTIN: And it was not a dream. Here now to give us the latest World Cup news from on and off the pitch is Ricardo Zuniga. He is Latin America sports editor for the Associated Press, and he's with us now from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Ricardo, welcome, thanks so much for joining us.

RICARDO ZUNIGA: Hi, Michel, thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So, to be honest, the U.S. did go into that match as the underdog, correct? I mean - Ghana having beat the U.S. twice before in World Cup competition.

ZUNIGA: Correct. The U.S. had lost to Ghana in the group stage back in 2006, and then in the round of 16, four years ago in South Africa. So they had a lot of questions to answer and they did. They got on the early goal with Dempsey. That's the fifth fastest goal in World Cup history, after 29 seconds, and they got the game-winner right at the end by Brooks. So they answered the questions, and they now have a big challenge against Germany and Portugal in the next two games.

MARTIN: So let's talk about the atmosphere, overall, in Brazil right now. You're in Rio and there - but there are games going on all over the country. You know, we've been hearing so much about the demonstrations leading up to the games. How are things now? What's the atmosphere like now?

ZUNIGA: Right now, actually, there's a big, festive atmosphere throughout the country. The big protests that many people expected before haven't really materialized. There have been some sporadic protests here and there. There was - around 200 people protested before the opening match between Brazil and Croatia in Sao Paulo. Police dispersed the protesters with tear gas and stun grenades. And on Sunday, there was a protest outside of Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro during the Argentina-Bosnia game, but aside from those there haven't been many protests. I think the whole country is caught up with the World Cup fever. You can feel the excitement in - here, in Rio de Janeiro, and throughout the country. There are thousands of fans from all over the world especially from Latin America, and it's just a big party. You can see the streets are lined with the Brazilian national colors of green and yellow - flags everywhere. So it seems like the party atmosphere has taken over Brazil and has overshadow any concerns about the protests.

MARTIN: You know, I was thinking back to the Olympics, and there were a lot of complaints about the way that authorities treated people in the run-up to the Winter Olympics in Russia. But once the games got started, you know, it seemed like kind of - I don't know whether national feeling, or what - just the excitement over the event itself - it kind of took over. So I was wondering about there. What are people saying there? I mean, was Brazil's win over Croatia, you know, helping to kind of create kind of better feelings, or what do you think it is?

ZUNIGA: Yeah, seems to be the case. You've got to remember that Brazil loves futbol, or fuchibol, as they call it here, or soccer, as they call it in the states. And whenever there's a big soccer match going on, especially with the national team, the whole country is fixed on their TV screens, and especially the World Cup. They have been dreaming about winning their sixth world championship since they won the last - the fifth one in 2002. So having the World Cup back in Brazil after 64 years, is a dream come true for them. Obviously, they are not happy about all the money that was invested in the stadiums - billions of dollars, which they feel should have been invested in schools, hospitals and just generally in services. But once the world starts rolling on the pitch, seems like everybody forgot about that. And you are absolutely right. The fact that they won the opening match against Croatia made things that much better. I'm sure if they had lost the match, maybe the atmosphere wouldn't be so festive right now.

MARTIN: What are some of the things we should be looking forward to in the days ahead? What are some of the big matches that people are looking forward to there?

ZUNIGA: Yeah, well, Brazil and Mexico play a key match today in Fortaleza. They both won their first matches, so either team can advance to the round of 16 with a win today. Tomorrow, we have a big match between Chile and Spain. Spain, as you know, is the reigning world champion, and they just got badly beaten by the Netherlands, 5-1, in their opening match. That's probably one of the biggest surprises of the tournament so far - not that the Netherlands couldn't beat Spain, but the result - the way they beat Spain is - was a real shock to everyone. And so that's a must-win situation for Spain. They need to win or they are going back home. There have been only two champions who have been eliminated in the first round. That was Italy in 2010 and France in 2002. So I'm sure Spain wants to avoid joining that club, and there's going to be a very exciting match here in Rio de Janeiro, in Maracana stadium.

MARTIN: Well, you know, Brazil is also famous to its beaches, in addition to its passion for the beautiful game. So Ricardo, you know I have ask. Are you going to make it out to the beach or is it all futbol, all the time? You can tell me. I won't tell your editor.

ZUNIGA: I'm hoping to be able to visit one of those beaches. So far I haven't been able to. It's been all fuchebol and all work, but there are stunning beaches here in Rio de Janeiro. Copacabana, obviously, is the most famous one, but you have others like Sao Conrado, Leblon y Panama, and the atmosphere in the beaches is great. The fan fest is located right in Copacabana, and there are thousands of fans everyday there, who join to watch the matches on giant screens...


ZUNIGA: ...Flags from every country, so it's a big party in the beach right now.

MARTIN: Well, it seems like you've done your research on the best beaches to go. Ricardo Zuniga is Latin America sports editor for the Associated Press. We reached him in Rio. Ricardo, thank you.

ZUNIGA: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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