Brazil wrestles with an uncertain World Cup legacy
PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil -- Statues of Cristiano Ronaldo and Fernandao have been unveiled in the last week; two footballers who were crowned continental and world champions during their club careers.
Ronaldo was present on his home island of Madeira, in the north Atlantic, to attend his "unveiling" but the other ceremony, held by the southwest Atlantic in Porto Alegre, Brazil, was a far more sombre occasion.
Fernandao, the former striker, who led Internacional to the Copa Libertadores -- he was the tournament's top scorer and man of the match in the final -- and FIFA Club World Cup success -- he was captain in the final win vs. Barcelona -- in 2006, died in a helicopter crash in June, aged 36.
Brazilians were shocked at his death, which came days before the World Cup started, and Inter fans covered an area outside their redeveloped Beira Rio home with flowers, shirts and tributes. As his statue was unveiled and fans sang his name last week, Fernandao's family spoke of their pride in his achievements.
The statue has pride of place outside a stadium with a bright future. Inter's 50,128 capacity home is well-used by a well-supported club, one of Brazil's big eight. The same can be said of the new or redeveloped stadiums in Belo Horizonte (home of recently crowned champions Cruzeiro), Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Curitiba, which will also be well-utilised.
One of the country's most beautiful stadiums is in the capital, Brasilia: the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha. It is the national stadium and a 72,000-seat monument fitting in with the nearby architectural gems by Oscar Niemeyer.
Held up by 200 massive columns, the roof looks like a flying saucer straight out of Niemeyer's 1950s architectural fantasies. It dovetails with the modernism of Brasilia and is a monument fit for the centre of Brazil's capital city.
The Garrincha is the second-most expensive stadium ever built after Wembley in London and recently staged the women's Brasilia International Tournament. Unlike their male counterparts last summer, Brazil won the competition.
Brasilia is likely to stage future international games and concerts but there's still a shortage of events for the stadium in a city that doesn't have a football team in the top two divisions.
Earlier this month, the stadium hosted Botafogo and Atletico Mineiro in a top-flight game but fewer than 4,000 attended. Aerosmith and Sir Paul McCartney have played concerts there, and further gigs and religious events are planned but it's still likely to be underemployed in a once booming country now facing recession.
Other cities have tried to stage Brazilian Serie A games and it makes sense. Brazil's biggest clubs have followings based well away from the city they call home, with Flamengo the best-supported club because of their fan base in the northeast.
Supporters' resolve has been tested, for what is support? Going to a match (and paying increasing prices for tickets), or saying that you like a football team and watching them on television? Only 17,000 attended one "Fla-Flu" Rio derby between Flamengo and Fluminense in the 76,000 capacity Maracana earlier this year.
Cuiaba is in the state of Matto Grosso, which owns the splendid Arena Pantanal. There, steps were taken to ensure that the stadium's four stands weren't left empty. This was necessary, for its three resident teams -- Luverdense, Cuiaba and Operario -- attract low crowds in the lower leagues.
Flamengo were brought in and played a league game against Goias that attracted 38,405 and over 31,000 saw Corinthians vs. Bragantino, though only 8,856 showed for Vasco da Gama vs. Santa Cruz.
It's a similar story in Manaus while stadiums in the northeastern cities of Recife, Salvador and Natal averaged 15,000 for games by their host teams (none of whom play in the top flight) in the season just finished.
Fortaleza, also in the northeast, averaged 18,000. In fact the average gate for club football in Brazil's 12 World Cup stadiums in 2014 is 18,300, up from 16,562 in 2013.
The World Cup was costly and over budget but it was also a surprise success for the millions of Brazilians who had expected mass protests and disorganisation.
"Not of these things happened," said journalist Alex Sabino from the respected newspaper, Folha de Sao Paulo.
"Millions of tourists came here, had a good time, watched a very good tournament and went home happy. So, it was good for Brazilians' self-esteem to see that we can host the greatest sports' event in the world.
"It was more to us than 'Brazil-Carnival-women-happy people'. That image tourists used to have in mind about us. Because Carnival lasts only four days and Brazilians are not so happy as people think."
Brazilians had also grown weary of profligate use of public money.
"We take corruption for granted," Sabino said. "Before the opening kickoff, what we heard and read was about the explosion of the price to build stadiums. Even Joanna Havelange [granddaughter of ex-FIFA president Joao Havelange and daughter of Ricardo Teixeira, president of the Brazilian FA, both of whom were found guilty of taking kickbacks for World Cup marketing rights] wrote on Instagram: "Let's support the WC because the money supposed to be stolen had already been stolen."
Such is Brazilians' distrust of their politicians, that's what happened.
"When the tournament started nobody mentioned the corruption," explains Sabino. "Yes, Brazil were humiliated by Germany and it would have been nice to win the World Cup, but apart from some biased journalists, everyone knew that Brazil were a two-man band, Neymar and Thiago Silva, and both didn't play in the semifinal. In fact, Brazil were fortunate not to lose against Chile [in the round of 16]."
Brazil's players didn't triumph, but in the eyes of the world the country did. Now, nearly six months on, the rest of the world does not have to wrestle with an uncertain World Cup legacy.
Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.