Reda Maher

Brazil 360: Home fans expect from Neymar in must-win opener

Reda Maher

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When Brazil hosted the World Cup in 1950, they lost to Uruguay in the final.

The so-called Maracanazo – named after the iconic stadium in Rio de Janeiro where they suffered that defeat – still rankles. They were the hot favourites, but Brazil conceded a late goal to lose to their neighbours.

Brazil have since gone on to win the trophy on five occasions, including three times in the 20 years subsequent to that haunting defeat, but the memory lives on.

The night before the start of this edition, Rio waited with collective bated breath ahead of the opening match against Croatia in Sao Paulo.

Whereas Rio had been calm during the daytime, by night the party was starting as locals and foreign fans hit the city’s bars and restaurants.

This man was resplendent in full kit, drinking from a football-shaped mug as he strode through Rio with friends.

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He was in no doubt as to who would win the World Cup, exclaiming ‘Brazil, Brazil’ as he pointed at his badge with the certainty of a fanatic.

But who is Brazil’s star man?

“Fred,” was the surprise answer from a drinker just behind him. “He did it last year (at the Confederations Cup), and he must play.”

While people were out and about drinking in the night, things seemed relatively placid by Rio’s elevated standards.

That should all change once the tournament gets underway – and as soon as the matches commence in Rio.

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“We’re going to win it this time,” insisted this woman as she sold the odd Caipirinha to revellers in the bohemian quarter of Lapa.

Neymar is the man, he will score the goals,” she added, before looking around longingly for a potential customer.

Fans bandied around different names for their favourite players, with Zenit St Petersburg forward Hulk and Barcelona’s Dani Alves also mentioned.

But Alves’ club team-mate Neymar was the name on the lips of most.

He is only 22 but has already scored 31 goals for his country, the undoubted superstar of Brazilian football.

However this has been a troubled season for the former Santos forward, whose big-money move to Barcelona last summer prompted a fraud investigation that scandalised a club never shy of promoting its moral credentials.

Performances on the pitch suffered, and he appeared to admit feeling nerves in the pre-match press conference, biting his fingernails and joking that he would need comforting from boss Luiz Felipe Scolari to help him sleep well.

Still, the overwhelming view is that home support and a good team will inspire him to greatness.

Not everyone thinks Brazil will go all the way though – this woman, an artist named Beatriz, just wanted everyone to refocus efforts to improve the country. She is wearing a 'FIFA Go Home' t-shirt and was painting black marks across Brazil flags.

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Beatriz may find more support to her cause in Sao Paulo, where the tournament begins tomorrow and where the protests have been particularly vocal.

While dissenting voices have been loud in the build-up, expect them to quiet after kick off on Thursday.

Eurosport’s Reda Maher is on location in Brazil for the duration of the 2014 World Cup - follow him on Twitter @Reda_Eurosport

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