Brazil answered its World Cup critics off field
RIO DE JANEIRO — For Brazil, it was the upside-down World Cup.
Brazilians lost at what they were certain they would win — soccer — and won where so many expected failure — organization.
For years, the country's government has endured grueling criticism from FIFA over severely delayed stadiums. Leaders rode out a wave of protests last year over billions spent on the tournament despite poor public services. Foreign tabloids warned fans of man-eating snakes and violence.
Many serious doubts remain: about corruption related to World Cup works; whether the country will see economic benefits from hosting the games; and whether dozens of infrastructure projects promised as the biggest legacy of the event will ever be completed.
But there is no question that the goal of giving the world a smoothly run, exuberant sporting spectacle surpassed all expectations.
“I think it's been awesome,” said Scott Zapczysky, a 39-year-old jiu jitsu instructor from Michigan, as he took in the final match at the Fan Fest on Copacabana beach Sunday night. “I thought it was going to be an enormous disaster, to be honest. But it looks good. I think people are really happy.”
Brazilians would disagree with him on one point: They were crushed by their team's historic 7-1 loss in the semifinals, followed by a 3-0 drubbing in the consolation game.
Still, President Dilma Rousseff said the success of the Cup gives the country confidence in its ability to pull off its next mega-event, the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.
Brazil was helped by foreign fans arriving with a spirit of adventure. Nobody expected to see the sort of comforts or precise organization seen at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. And to be sure, there were problems.
Traffic jams plagued cities like Rio and Sao Paulo each time a match was played. Petty crimes such as pickpocketing and muggings were often a complaint.
But there were no mass protests like those witnessed during last year's Confederations Cup, the World Cup's warm-up soccer tournament.
Strikes by public transport workers and police that many feared would hurt the event were resolved in the days before the tournament began. The stadiums held up well despite some concerns about their structural safety.
What's left now is for Brazilians themselves to decide if the $13.5 billion spent in preparations was worth it.