Dion Fanning: Selecao the only story in town as Belo Horizonte gears up for final World Cup game
Rush hour traffic was gridlocked in Belo Horizonte on Monday night. In truth, it can be hard to tell when rush hour begins and when it ends in many Brazilian cities.
Rio can come to a halt at the most unexpected times and, as quickly, it can start moving again.
Holidays have been called in most cities on match days which means that, while Brazil’s economy is suffering during the tournament, people can get to the stadiums.
Two people were killed last week in Belo Horizonte when an unfinished overpass collapsed onto the road below. Locals blamed the World Cup for rushed transport projects while international stories focused on its proximity to the Estadio Mineirao which is about 4km away and will host Tuesday’s semi-final.
The local trilingual paper Jornal Tudo, produced for the World Cup, said on its front page that “the population wants to know what has caused the accident”. But it may be that answers are given, if they come at all, when the world is no longer listening.
The semi-final is Belo Horizonte’s last World Cup game. “The World Cup vibe is still in the air despite the lack of games and of foreign visitors on the streets,” Jornal Tudo said as it laid out the plans for the semi-final which mainly involved a hope that Brazil would be one of the teams.
They are, of course, as their emotional and unruly campaign returns to Belo Horizonte, where they beat Chile in the last sixteen on a day when Brazil could cry happy tears before, during and after penalties.
Then came Neymar's injury and the general perception of the Brazilian team as out of control men. Their reputation has taken such a hit that many people will see Germany as the little guy who needs protection in Belo Horizonte, even if Neymar’s injury means Brazil should start as underdogs.
As traffic moved slowly through Belo Horizonte on Monday night, a group of policemen stood on an elevated point trying to peer across a road where cars were moving particularly slowly.
There were crowds standing on the street but the policemen didn’t seem too bothered about that. My taxi-driver, who had found many of the other delays such a cause of frustration that he had been required to punch something into his phone during each one, also smiled benignly.
Most of the people spilling onto the road were wearing Brazil tops. Parents carried children on their shoulders as they all looked towards a hotel entrance. There was the unmistakable air of anticipation when a crowd feels it is in proximity to something exciting if not actually experiencing anything exciting themselves.
They were trying to catch a glimpse of somebody, anybody in the hotel. The taxi driver smiled again. “Selecao,” he said and everything made sense. This was Brazil’s hotel. The Selecao had arrived.
Once again, nothing else mattered.