RIO DE JANEIRO: Well before the first kick-off, the World Cup was playing against the odds, with Brazil rushing to finish stadiums, chaos at airports and violent protests in the streets.
But a month after the first game, Argentina‘s team is preparing to play Germany in Sunday’s final, capping a tournament where football reigned, with beautiful goals and drama on the pitch, while doomsday scenarios never materialized.
When the continent-sized nation won the right to host the Cup in 2007, it wanted to show it was not just the home of the “beautiful game” but also an emerging power that can organize the sport’s biggest events.
While Brazil’s national team was knocked out in a humiliating 7-1 semi-final defeat to Germany, the government is declaring that the tournament itself was a success.
“We were able to do the Cup even though they said it would be chaos,” President Dilma Rousseff, who is seeking reelection in October, said Friday.
FIFA and experts agree.
“Brazil is huge, it has a lot of defects and cities have big problems,” said Lamartine da Costa, a sports events expert at the Rio de Janeiro State University.
“But it is the world’s seventh economy. Amid the confusion, when there’s a need to get things done, things generally work out.”
While the stadiums were finished just in time, many of the promised public transport projects were delayed until after the tournament.
And the worst defeat in the five-time champion team’s history laid bare a football crisis in the country that gave the world Pele, Garrincha, Zico and Neymar.
– ‘One of the best Cups’ –
While the Selecao was humiliated, the other teams put on a show that made it an exciting tournament full of surprises and goals.
“It was one of the best World Cups when it comes to technique, although it become a bit more tense closer to the final,” Brazil’s 1994 World Cup champion and former midfielder Rai told AFP.
The group phase saw the Netherlands trounce defending champions Spain 5-1. Emotions ran high for Brazil, with goalkeeper Julio Cesar breaking down in tears before becoming the hero in a penalty shootout against Chile in the last-16 round.
Off the pitch, tourists were delighted by the warmth of the Brazilian people across the nation of sun, samba and picturesque beaches.
Up to 25,000 people from around the world would attend official “Fan Fest” public screenings at the 12 host cities.
The tourism ministry expects to exceed a forecast of 600,000 visitors, double the figure from the 2010 tournament in South Africa.
“This is my 20th World Cup and I can say that this Cup is undoubtedly a great success,” FIFA president Sepp Blatter said. “Where are the problems that could have happened?”
The country did flirt with a major tragedy when an unfinished highway overpass that was part of the Cup-related projects collapsed on four vehicles, including part of a crowded bus, in the southeastern city of Belo Horizonte. Two people died.
At the airports, traffic was intense but escaped major issues. From June 12 to July 10, more than 15 million people went through the country’s airports, with 6.6 percent running late and a cancellation rate of 5.4 percent.
By comparison, 7.6 percent of flights in Europe were late in 2013, according to the Brazilian civil aviation agency.
Fears of chaos came after the Confederations Cup was marked by massive protests last year, when Brazilians flooded the streets to criticize the World Cup’s record $11 billion spending and demand better hospitals, public transport and schools.
But protests were small during the World Cup as football passion took over.
For Sunday’s final, authorities are deploying a record 26,000 police and soldiers in Rio. A protest has been called near the Maracana.