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Friday, 21 June, 2002, 19:16 GMT 20:16 UK
Football delirium strikes Rio
Fans in central Rio de Janeiro
"Futebol" fever got fans out of bed for an 0330 start

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When Michael Owen put the ball in the back of the Brazilian net they hung their heads and shouted insults at the television.

But when Rivaldo smashed home the equaliser a huge shout erupted from the thousands of Brazilians fans who had braved a 0330 (0630 GMT) kick-off to watch the game in downtown Rio de Janeiro.

Open Quote
People in India, they believe in Buddha. People in Brazil, they believe in football
Close Quote
Football fan Guido Mello

From then on the party did not stop.

Even when Ronaldinho Gaucho was sent off in the second half, the boos and insults slung at the giant screen set up in a street of downtown Rio did not dampen the atmosphere.

When the final whistle went, fans set off fireworks, waved their yellow and green flags and danced, beer cans and rum bottles passing from mouth to mouth.

Surprised and delighted

"People in India they believe in Buddha. People in Brazil they believe in football. That is our God. Every four years that becomes our religion here," shouted Guido Mello.

Brazil's performance in the World Cup has surprised and delighted fans, many of whom did not rate their team's chances at the start of the tournament.

Fans in Rio de Janeiro
Going loco in downtown Rio

Brazil struggled to qualify and national pride hit rock bottom last year when they lost to tiny Honduras.

But their defeat of England has redeemed all that.

The match was built up as the crucial hurdle that Brazil would have to pass to add a fifth World Cup title to their belt.

Now most Brazilians expect their country to bring the cup back home.

"I am pretty positive," said another fan, Wanderley Martianos.

"We are passing through a very difficult situation, because of politics, because of the economy and we deserve it.

"We need that."

Soul searching

Certainly the managers of Brazilian football will heave a huge sigh of relief if Brazil can win the cup.

Defeat against France in the final of the last World Cup led to unprecedented soul searching and corruption investigations which went all the way to the country's Congress.

Rivaldo
Rivaldo with the goal that first set Rio alight
Investigators turned up evidence of tax evasion, kickbacks from multi-million dollar transfers of players to Europe and even money-laundering.

Press interest in pushing the investigations further would almost certainly be fuelled by another World Cup defeat - even if the Brazilian team gets to the final.

Many hope that by contrast a fifth victory would bring a bonanza of sponsorship deals and other opportunities for Brazilian clubs.

At present many top clubs are facing bankruptcy - unable to pay their players.

In the lower leagues some clubs are having to stop playing football altogether for lack of funds.

'Not in their blood'

Most commentators are now betting on a World Cup final against Germany.

The defeat of the United States in the other quarter final was a second reason for celebration in South America's largest country - where mistrust of US power has always been strong.

"I don't trust in the football of the United States at all," said Wanderley Martianos.

"They have the money to contract the best players. They have the money to contract the best coaches.

"But football is not in the blood of the people. They don't deserve to win. They don't know what to do with the World Cup."


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