Thursday 22 February 2018

Fans gather for World Cup final

Some Argentina soccer fans spent the night on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro (AP)
Some Argentina soccer fans spent the night on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro (AP)

Tens of thousands of fans are flocking to the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina, as millions of Brazilians have one more game to celebrate their month-long football extravaganza.

Ahead of the 64th and last match in Rio, workers and supporters were already arriving at the Maracana Stadium at 9am local time, seven hours head of kick-off.

Security forces were on site in the early hours preparing for Brazil's big day. More than 25,000 police and soldiers will be on guard for the game, the biggest security detail in Brazilian history.

Inside the stadium, Russian president Vladimir Putin and German chancellor Angela Merkel will be among the world leaders watching the game.

Rio's Copacabana beach, meanwhile, was awash in the sky blue of Argentina's football jerseys as thousands of rowdy fans gathered hours ahead of the championship match.

Rio officials have estimated that at least 70,000 fans from Argentina are in Rio.

Around the Maracana, where 74,000 spectators will cram in for the final, lines of security forces wearing camouflage uniforms and carrying rifles stood watch. Roads were closed and military helicopters buzzed overhead, with Brazilian authorities still wary that the violent protests that marred last year's Confederations Cup warm-up event may reappear.

But Brazil was hoping to blend the serious issue of security with fun for the fans.

Across the road from the lines of military police, Argentina supporters danced and sang in a cafe, eagerly awaiting their chance to win the World Cup for the first time since Diego Maradona's team in 1986.

"Messi will lift it! Messi will lift it!" the Argentines chanted, hoping that their star player Lionel Messi will pick up the solid gold trophy at the end.

German fans were filtering in, too, hoping for a fourth world title. There were also supporters wearing Colombia, Mexico, Northern Ireland and Brazil shirts, and many more.

For the host country, the football ended in disappointment with a 7-1 rout at the hands of the Germans in the semifinals and a loss in the 3rd/4th place play-off but the tournament - with one game to go - has been hailed as a success.

"We did OK, yes?" said a Brazilian walking around the outskirts of the Maracana wearing his team's canary-yellow shirt.

Press Association

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