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Brazilian ambassador to T&T Paulo Bozzi issued a last-minute cancellation yesterday afternoon and instead sent his deputy to officially “open” the World Cup at a packed bar in Woodbrook. According to embassy staff liming at the All Out bar at the Queen’s Park Oval ahead of Brazil’s opening fixture with Croatia in Sao Paolo, Bozzi had suffered big match “nerves” and stayed home to entertain ambassadors at his official residence, St Clair.
Regina Bittencourt, the embassy’s deputy head of mission, filled in for the ambassador, giving a short speech in front of the throng of football fans.
Brazil fans in bright yellow replica jerseys were teeming in the bar. Amongst them, Carib girls in tight white jeans wandered around showing off washboard stomachs and pearly white smiles. The stage was set early as fans piled in before the 2 pm opening ceremony, a typically underwhelming affair, and an enormous Brazil flag was draped over a window while the flags of the other competing nations (32 in total) were hung all over the bar, creating a sea of colour.
Out on the balcony, speakers boomed out the electronic dance music of the opening show and Jennifer Lopez tottered around the pitch in stiletto heels and a green sequinned mini catsuit while US Latino rapper Pitbull waved his hands about.
Xavier Alexander, an English student visiting T&T on holiday, expressed his bemusement as to why Lopez, a Puerto Rican, was the star of the show. “I’ve no idea what she’s doing here,” he said, “but that other woman is a Brazilian pop star, I think.”
He was right, it was Claudia Leitte, famous in South America though virtually unknown anywhere else. The 44-year-old Lopez looked in fine form despite sound problems.
The stadium, home to the Corinthians team, looked resplendent in the late afternoon sunshine. An extra 12,000 seats had been added to increase its capacity to 61,000. The extra seats will be removed after the World Cup is over.
In Port-of-Spain, a brief downpour sent the Carib girls and limers running into the bar where excitement was mounting. But where was the ambassador? The T&T Guardian told All Out’s owner Laurette Moses and general manager Vernal Crooms said he wasn’t coming. “Why not?” they chorused. Opening-night nerves, was the only response we could give.
No fear. The substitute, Bittencourt, who hails from Bahia in the north of Brazil, was a fine stand-in, rousing the crowd and declaring, diplomatically: “Let the best team win,” before adding, less diplomatically: “And I hope that’s my country, Brazil.”
Asked what her favourite World Cup memory was, Bittencourt told the Guardian: “I remember the 1970 World Cup very well, even though I was young. There were people in the streets dancing and celebrating.”
That great ‘70 side, featuring Pele, Jairzinho and Rivelino, is considered by football pundits to be one of the greatest World Cup sides of all time and Bittencourt recalls meeting Pele later in her career in Budapest, where she was working.
“He was received in Hungary like a head of state,” she said. Of the current team’s chances she said: “Felipe Scolari (the Brazil coach) is into teamwork, which is important when you have a team of stars wanting to act individually. We have good players and we would like to see a good performance.”
On the protests taking place across Brazil, she commented: “People should have protested before when we were bidding for it, not now. We are hosts and we need to welcome people and have fun. Everywhere our fans go in the world we have a party and people love us. We must do that in our own country more than ever.”
Asked if she had spoken to friends and family back home and what the mood was like in her home town in Bahia, which has a strong African culture and where Carnival lasts five days and five nights, she confirmed that people were very excited. She refused to give a prediction, saying: “I can only hope. Every side, even the weakest, when they play against Brazil, they try very hard to beat us. If they do it’s like they’ve won the cup.”
As if to confirm her fears, the hosts conceded the opening goal of the tournament through a Marcelo own-goal after just 11 minutes.
Neymar, Brazil’s talisman, equalised just before the half-hour and the host nation breathed a collective sigh of relief. The match ended 3-1 in Brazil’s favour, which included a penalty stunner from Neymar.