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Brazil

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Protests to positives

Anti-World Cup protests have spread across Brazil in the lead-up to the tournament.
Anti-World Cup protests have spread across Brazil in the lead-up to the tournament.

Around two hours away from Rio de Janeiro at the end of a road that winds its way intricately through a forest-clad mountain range is the city of Teresópolis. It is one of a cluster of settlements that sprung up around the region's shimmering gem, Petrópolis, which once upon a time provided Brazil's imperial elite with respite from the heat and chaos of Rio, 70 miles below.

Teresópolis -- Terê to locals -- boasts very little of Petrópolis' faded gold and glamour. It is a sleepy, quiet place. School children wander round to kill time; tradesmen shoot the breeze over sickly-sweet cups of coffee or icy beers. It is a getaway city: some go there to escape the rush while others count the days until they can leave.

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The environs do lend themselves well to one thing. With its cool(er) climate and lack of prying eyes, Teresópolis is the perfect place for a football team to train. This, presumably, was the thinking when, in 1978, the CBF -- Brazil's football federation -- purchased a plot of land and set up the Granja Comary complex.

With its five pristine pitches and state-of-the-art facilities, this has been the Seleção's home in Brazil since 1987. It was here that the squad trained in the lead-up to every World Cup between 1990 and 2002, and it is here that Luiz Felipe Scolari's charges gathered on Monday ahead of this summer's tournament.

They would have expected a warm welcome. The city, after all, takes no little pride in its status as Brazil's footballing headquarters. This year, the main road into the centre of town is adorned with cartoon images of Neymar, Pelé and Cafu. But when the team bus rolled into Granja Comary, it was met with angry protests rather than cheers.

The trip had started with demonstrators surrounding the coach as it left the Linx hotel in downtown Rio. Familiar chants of "Não vai ter Copa" (there will be no World Cup) were complimented by demands for more nuanced spending on education. Many of the protesters were professors from local universities and colleges, according to reports.

The scene was repeated up in the mountains, albeit on a smaller scale. Around 30 or so gathered in Teresópolis, calling for better conditions for local teachers. One banner called for a "general education strike".

Speaking to the press later in the day, Carlos Alberto Parreira, Brazil's technical coordinator, laughed off suggestions that the players could be affected by the tumult. "People can interpret [the protests] however they wish," he said. "Historically and culturally, the Seleção belongs to the people. No one is against us."

That sentiment tallies well with the reactions of the players themselves to the demonstrations that took place during last summer's Confederations Cup.

"I'm a Brazilian who lives abroad, but I love my country," said David Luiz at the time. "I hope the country continues to get better. Brazilians are patriots and are proving it."

Neymar, Hulk and others also voiced their support for the protests, which helped ensure that the Seleção remained a unifying force during the turmoil.

That position may well be a touch trickier to maintain this time out -- disquiet over World Cup spending has swelled in the past 12 months -- but the hope is that Scolari and his charges will be able to channel public frustration to their advantage on the field.

A repeat of the moving a cappella renditions of the national anthem that marked the Confederations Cup campaign, for instance, would provide Brazil with some added emotional energy when they face Croatia on June 12.